This post is somewhat modified from a reply I made to Justine Larbalestier on her own blog post about her miserable experience with voice recognition. For what it’s worth, I’m using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 on Windows 7, and I run it on close to the fastest processor available in May 2010 and 4 GB of RAM.
I started using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 in late 2009. I, too, was in a situation where the condition of my wrists and elbows suddenly curtailed (and eventually prohibited) my use of a keyboard and mouse. And I know that no software will be perfect and no one solution will be right for everyone.
With that said, I had far more trouble with it in the beginning and was very frustrated. At this point, I find it works very well, and by using it whenever possible, I can type the occasional word or phras when that’s more convenient. There are certain things it just doesn’t do (like have editing tools compatible with Google Docs), but a few tips and tricks made it far more usable for me.
First–and this turned out to be the biggest thing in my case–I was trying to run it on my old computer, which didn’t meet even the minimum spec for the software, let alone exceed it. My experience at that time closely parallels Justine’s, in that it was so much easier to just turn the stupid thing off and type whenever I could. No matter how much I slowed down, over-enunciated, or spoke in single words, nothing would fix certain problems. But my hands and arms kept getting worse, so I went out on a limb and bought a new computer (mine was five years old at the time, so I was about due for a change).
Made all the difference in the world. What had been frustrating or agonizing before became suddenly easy. I discovered that when I had been reduced to speaking in individual words, I had actually been doing the worst thing possible (if only the software had been running on a computer that could handle the alternative). Speaking in whole phrases and sentences increased recognition hugely, as context actually helped Dragon to figure out what I was saying.
I also discovered certain tools and tricks for using the editing functions in ways that were not intuitive to me out of the package. I still don’t try to make it substitute for a mouse on a regular basis (though being able to switch windows just with the voice command is very nice), but I discovered that the easiest way to position my cursor to edit text was to say “insert after” or “insert before,” rather than trying to use the “move up/right/down/left” commands. I also found it was easier to select and correct a whole phrase than just one word within it.
Certain words, yeah, I’ve never been able to get it to give me the spelling I’m looking for the first time. I actually do spell e-mail with a hyphen, but eBook? Not so much. For those particular words, I alternate between saying, for example, “select e-book” and choosing the alternate spelling I have programmed in or simply typing in the single word I know never comes up right first time. In particularly tricky cases where I know I will never use a spelling that keeps coming up, I’ve been known to delete that spelling from Dragon’s dictionary.
Likewise, regarding character names, I’ve found two solutions. If it’s a name I’m going to be using a lot, I program it in. The more I use that name in preference to whatever else the software might think I’m trying to say, the more likely it is to come up the first time. If it’s a name I’m not going to use very often, I will frequently use the “spell” command. “Spell E-S-T-E-B-A-N” doesn’t take me very long to say and comes out right the first time. This will probably not be true for every accent or every person, but just discovering that I didn’t have to say “spell that” and wait and then spell the word in and say “OK” each time made it a far more useful process.
The truth is, if I weren’t in such a bad situation with my wrists and elbows, I don’t know if I would ever have had the motivation to suffer through the learning curve, let alone actually try installing the same software on a faster computer. I would never recommend someone switch to voice recognition software just because they thought it would be faster or easier–the frustration conquers all in the beginning. But when you’re left with few options, sometimes it can be a lifesaver. Again, not necessarily for everyone, as much as I would love to be wrong about that. But I’m always happy to answer questions for anyone just starting out with Dragon, because I remember how frustrating it was, and I’d so much rather spare as many people as possible that experience.