Hugh John reviews Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9

It’s a little scary when you come across speech recognition software that has the contextual nous to differentiate between Foxx and fox, but that’s what Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 can do.

Say, “Jamie Foxx the actor” and you’ll get the double-X version, mention, “furry fox” and you’ll get the single X. Doubtless this sort of acumen can be explained in terms of word nets, relevant vocabulary and databases but it’s still very impressive. Good Dragon.

Version 9 comes in a variety of flavours, depending on your needs. "Preferred", which is supplied with a comfortable headset for dictation and allows you to control most Windows applications too, is likely to be the best suited for most users. You can also use it in tandem with a Pocket PC, Palm device or digital recorder to capture dictation and then transcribe, And even allowing for the inevitable transcription errors and consequent corrections it’s likely to be a much quicker way of entering text into a computer than using a keyboard unless you’re an accurate and speedy touch typist.

Software developer Nuance’s claim that transcription accuracy can be as high as 99 per cent seems, well, overly optimistic. As does its assertion that you can “instantly begin using your voice to dictate letters and email”. However, Dragon is a creature that thrives on training. Kneeglect its basic edukayshun and you’ve got a monsterre on yur ands!

Here’s part of the Dragon training manual: “Harriet I heard that you are starting a new job in San Francisco. When does the new job start [Question Mark] I would love to have lunch with you before you leave.”

Here are some of Dragon’s untrained responses:

Harriet's literature saucing Icel and San Francisco.

Harriet's. I heard a Stasi menu job in San Francisco. When does the joke looked to have lunch with you before you leave

Harriet's, I had the Jew was tossing a new job in San Francisco. When does the new job stompers?

Here’s the transcription after some fairly basic tuition:

“Harriet's. I heard that you are starting a new job in San Francisco. When does the new job start?

I would love to have lunch with you before you leave.” One small mistake on the first word which could well be ascribed to my less than perfect pronunciation.

Dragon doesn't do sloppy

And talking of pronunciation – anyone who has seen and heard speech recognition software exhibited at shows such as BETT will realise that demonstrators speak in an artificial, emphasised manner. They enunciate and articulate in much the way of BBC newsreaders circa 1950. And it works. Dragon doesn’t do sloppy. Run your words together, slur your speech and transcription accuracy will be seriously diminished. TALK LIKE THIS and you won’t have a problem.

One of the strengths of Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the way in which it recovers from mistakes. Regular users would do well to familiarise themselves with the 20 or so voice commands that control formatting, text selection and error correction.

Dragon, however, has considerably more to offer than speech-to-text conversion. As Sandra Thistlethwaite, speech and language therapist for highly respected Inclusive Technology points out, “Dragon gives you the power to create documents, reports, e-mails and more - all by speaking. If you have physical access difficulties such as RSI, arthritis or high spinal injury, Dragon can help you surf the web, launch programs and control your mouse and entire desktop, all hands-free. For people with specific learning difficulties e.g. dyslexia, Dragon can read aloud from the screen and will always spell correctly, allowing you to get your thoughts on to paper faster.”

It’s by no means an exact science yet, but speech recognition software has made great improvements in the past decade and Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking is at the forefront of many of these advances. As computer memory and processor speeds continue to improve you can be sure that Dragon NaturallySpeaking will be increasingly valuable and significant for the education sector

More information

Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred
£130
www.nuance.co.uk

CD-Rom and online training from Abilitynet

AbilityNet is a national charity helping disabled adults and children use computers and the internet by adapting and adjusting their technology. With TuitionZone it has produced CD and online training courses for Dragon NaturallySpeaking (£50 plus VAT together).
For details you can either contact them free on:
0800 269545 or visit their web page for training courses:
www.abilitynet.org.uk/pub_courses