I want to write by using my voice

Using voice to input text is one of the most powerful tools available and few areas of technology are improving at such a speed. We look at some of the key points to help you get started.

Where do I start?

An old dictation machine called the Soundscriber

When assessing students for dictation an ideal situation is a clear voice, an understanding of technology and most importantly a level of resilience. It can help students with needs ranging from “improving my writing speed” right the way to “I currently have no writing method that works”

Dictation can involve high levels of concentration – and frustration if things do not go well. It is important to set a steady pace when teaching this skill and focus on what has gone well, rather than expecting a perfect result right away.

Setting up

  • Use a quiet space with minimal interruptions
  • Use a noise cancelling, high-quality headset
  • Time this to be when the learner’s concentration is high
  • Have a test run yourself and consider support

Quick Tips

  • Make the task enjoyable so the focus is on this, rather than the method
  • Set expectations: it may not be the right solution or it may patience to crack
  • Make initial sessions short: stop when the student has had some success
  • Consider what will be available outside of the educational setting
  • Set clear tasks and celebrate success!

Which Solution?

The solution can depend on the environment, the learner’s preference and the features available. It may be that the learner uses a method on a computer and this enables them to use it on their phone. There is no one best way and an assessment is the best way to work out which combination of tools to use. Here are the main ones used effectively in education.

Microphone symbol in Google Docs

Windows Computers: Google Docs

Tucked away in the “Tools” menu in Google Docs is a free dictation tool. This is often a good place to start as the results are positive for a wide range of voices. Google works out what it thinks you are likely to have said, rather than exactly what it has heard – this can be helpful or hinder you depending on your accuracy. You’ll need a Google Account, so check for privacy issues and remember to use the Chrome Browser when accessing this or it won’t work. Downsides? Needs an internet connection so can’t be used in most exams and punctuation isn’t the most accurate. Overall a useful tool and one that is easy to use with learners.

Google has published a Type with your voice help article that contains a step-by-step and some useful commands.

Windows Computers: Dragon Naturally Speaking

The more recent versions of Dragon require minimal training, do not need an internet connection and work with a variety of Windows programmes. It will train specifically to hear your voice and has the tools to improve recognition over time. It has a price tag but gives

Dragon toolbar

good value to learners who use this well. Dragon is often used with learners who have an understanding of software and a potential to improve their spoken communication. Complete computer control is possible, with patience and support, but often it is good to start taking down ideas in a word processor or writing emails.

At the time of writing this article, Dragon has a variety of packages including site licenses and individual educational licenses.

Apple Macs/iPads/iPhones

MacOS or iOS comes with dictation built in, and it has a deserved reputation for ease of use.

With basic dictation an internet connection is used to process the speech and you can only speak for 30-40 seconds. With later versions (OS X Mavericks v10.9 or later) you can use Enhanced Dictation which converts text quicker, allows for continuous speech and does not require an internet connection.

The best bit? Arguably that the microphone symbol on your iPhone or iPad keyboard is all you need to get going.

Android Tablets/Phones

Once again you can use the microphone symbol on any keyboard to start taking notes, the great thing is that this means it works with any app that uses the keyboard. So you can use this tool to search the internet, write an email, take some notes, write a text message…the list goes on.

Further information

This has not been an exhaustive list of solutions, but should give you a place to start! You can get in touch with us if you’d like to find out about

  • Dictation.io
  • Chromebooks
  • Windows Speech Recognition
  • Using switches to start/stop listening
  • Using commands and computer control in Dragon
  • Reducing the stigma of using dictation
  • Dictation in languages other than English

This article also relates to:

I want help to write text


If you have questions about this or other assistive technology related topics please get in touch with TechAbility.