Chris Drage talked to the Dragon, and the Dragon talked back – NaturallySpeaking of course

Dragon NaturallySpeakingHaving a son who’s suffered with dyslexia all his life (unrecognised even by his primary school) and watching him struggle when writing, I fully appreciate the assistance that speech-recognition software provides.

Over the past ten years the accuracy of speech recognition software has improved immensely, offering both accurate spelling and audio feedback which helps students get their thoughts down quickly, clearly and correctly in professional documents. And Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 makes this even easier.

This market leading software also provides dyslexic learners and those with other disabilities the freedom to write and control their computer with their voice. Simply by speaking, email, documents and spreadsheets can be accurately created faster than most people can type. It's useful for anyone, including students and teachers – journalists too as I quickly discovered! (See also Sal McKeown's take on students using Dragon for their exams – "Voice technology ready for exam room?")

Easy to learn and simple to use

Speech-recognition software has been around for more than 20 years and during that time it has had a questionable reputation, partly due to its cost, lack of initial accuracy in the early stages and its dependence on the user’s willingness to persist through any initial frustrations. Dragon is easy to learn and simple to use. It includes everything you need to get started, including a step-by-step interactive tutorial and high-quality headset microphone. I don’t propose to re-review the system in detail here as version 11 has already been covered on this website by Hugh John (see "Keyboards cringe as 'Dragon' spreads its wings").

By way of a caveat I feel it is only right to emphasise that computers are not intelligent beasts: they are fast, boringly unimaginative and perform repeated tasks exceptionally fast. It is only software which makes computers appear ‘intelligent’ – something we tend to lose sight of in the modern world of cloud management, QR codes, tablets, apps and quad-core processors. So it is only fair to say that Dragon will only perform at its best if the user has installed it on an appropriate PC, performed the full training programme and continues to correct its errors during the course of time. Only then will Dragon achieve anything like the 99 per cent accuracy claimed by publisher Nuance (this is particularly important for those who may speak with a regional dialect!). Dragon ‘training’ does not take long: I spent a couple of hours with it dictating and correcting from a range of texts but you can get away with 45 minutes in order to obtain a very high degree of accuracy.

The most obvious improvement is that Dragon 12 is indeed even more accurate than previous versions. Whether Dragon gives you up to 99 per cent accuracy though is difficult to quantify. It is certainly up to 90 per cent or better with intensive initial and on-going training. Nuance claims there’s a 20 per cent improvement to out-of-the-box accuracy compared with Dragon 11 and I have no reason to doubt that as it does ‘feel’ faster.

Take time to make corrections – accuracy increases

When you do take the time to make corrections, it makes it more accurate the more that you use it. It is a faster and slicker program than ever. It is also helped as Dragon takes advantage of the latest multi-core processors in today's PCs. It also boosts performance by providing easier correction and editing options, and giving you more control over your command preferences, letting you get things done faster than ever before. It also now uses what Nuance calls ‘Smart Format Rules’ which means Dragon will adapt to how you want your words to look. It automatically learns your preferences when you make a change to how words, phrases or numbers are formatted. Thus, your dictated text looks exactly the way you want it to.

A new interactive tutorial in Dragon 12 guides you through exercises that demonstrate best practices for dictating, editing and formatting so that you can get up and running quickly. Proposed at the end of profile creation and available at any time from the Help menu, the Interactive Tutorial in Dragon 12 offers short simulations to help you practise good dictation, correction and editing habits so that you can create text as efficiently as possible.

Dragon 12 offers wideband Bluetooth support to provide higher wireless accuracy and to let you get started quickly. When it detects that the USB dongle of a certified microphone is plugged into the PC, Dragon 12 offers "Enhanced Bluetooth" as an audio source type and does not require a script reading to get started. It should be noted that this feature is only available in the Premium Edition and above.

An improved text-to-speech engine allows you to review your words by listening to a better, more natural text-to-speech voice. Dragon 12 will read editable text with fast-forward, rewind and speed and volume control for easy proofing and multi-tasking. This feature is available in the Home edition and above.

Nuance has also enhanced webmail access by making it easier than ever to use Gmail and Hotmail, two of the most popular web email services. Dragon users can now dictate and control email by voice. Dragon 12 also enhances the experience by offering full text control and commands for the most frequent actions in Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 12 (and above) and Google Chrome 16 (and above).

Dragon 12For those who wish to turn their mobile phone into a microphone, Dragon's Remote Mic app is now also available for Android devices, giving you the freedom to use your iOS or Android device as a wireless microphone. This is achieved via Nuance’s free Dragon Remote Microphone app.

Turn your compatible iPhone, iPod touch (4th gen), iPad or Android device into a wireless microphone for use with Dragon over a wifi network. Simply use the camera on your device to scan the barcode that Dragon 12 provides on-screen and you can go straight to the download. This feature is available in ‘Home’ edition the software (and above).

Additional facilities, like text-to-speech, can help develop proof-reading skills

With no typing skills or spelling knowledge required to create text, all the student’s attention can be focused on thinking about the content. It can also save time for any student who is a slow typist. Dragon NaturallySpeaking ‘Premium’ or ‘Professional’ also include recording of the dictation. This enables the student to hear what s/he actually said when an error in recognition occurs. All versions have built-in text-to-speech enabling the user to hear the text that has been produced. These features can greatly improve a student’s proof-reading success.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 is ideal for those with dyslexia or with mobility problems such as dyspraxia or RSI as voice controls can be used to navigate round the computer. Even with the Educational Online Validation program at £50, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 still isn't exactly a casual purchase. However, it is a tool which does its job expertly. It’s far more competent than the built-in speech-recognition engines that come with computers, and without any doubt it’s the best Dragon version to date. If a school has any students who are dyslexic, or suffer from RSI, or can’t comfortably operate a keyboard for any reason, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 well worth the money. And it's extremely useful for most of the rest of us too. Thoroughly recommended!

Dragon Dictate(A different version of the program is available for Apple computers, called Dragon Dictate. My colleague Merlin John has been looking at this on a Mac Mini and reports good feedback from using the software but some performance challenges with the Mac Mini got in the way of a full review – and for Parallels Desktop Windows virtualisation software too.)

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose  5
Ease of use              4
Features                  5
Quality                     5
Value for money      5

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12  
Nuance voice recognition software for dictation and editing, and for controlling aspects of PC use by voice, available with package including CD or as software download from the Nuance website: Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 Professional, £549.00; Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 Professional Upgrade, regular price £179, promo £143.20; Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 Premium Education, £99.99; Dragon Dictate for Mac 3, £129.99; Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 Wireless (lets you control computer by voice too), £229.99 (All prices include VAT). Special pricing for education can be found here.
www.nuance.co.uk 
List of digital audio recorders that are compatible with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 
It's also worth checking out Amazon prices, for example £54.25 for home edition of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, or £79.99 for the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 12.0, Educational Online Validation Program (PC)

Chris DrageChris Drage, a former teacher, is a consultant and journalist covering learning with ICT. You can contact him by email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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