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How to Use Windows Vista Speech Recognition

How to Use Windows Vista Speech Recognition
How to Use Windows Vista Speech Recognition

    Voice recognition software has been around for a long time, but it’s only in the last few years that it has become accurate enough and simple enough to use with any regularity. It has also been rather expensive, with “basic” versions running around $80-100 and “premium” versions running to several hundred dollars – prompting many buyers to ask what was missing from the lower-priced versions.

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    If you have Windows Vista, though, you might be surprised to find that voice recognition is built in – and that it’s pretty good. While it takes some getting used to, with a little practice you’ll soon be able to use speech recognition to create and edit documents as well as to control most of the functions of your computer.

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    Before you can begin using speech recognition, you’ll need to spend about an hour setting it up. This involves detecting your headset or microphone, running through a tutorial, and training the software to recognize your speech patterns. To get started, complete these steps:

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    1. Open the Control Panel and double-click “Speech Recognition Options”. This opens the speech recognition panel, with commands for starting speech recognition, configuring your microphone, running the tutorial, training the software, and opening the speech reference card which will help you learn the commands.
    2. Double-click “Set up microphone”. Follow the instructions to make sure your microphone is working with your system. Note: although in theory you can use any microphone, standard microphones that plug into your sound card tend not to have good enough sound quality for speech recognition. Instead, you should look for a microphone or headset that plugs into your USB port. I use a basic Logitech model that cost about $40.00.
    3. Return to the Speech Recognition Options panel and double-click “Start Speech Recognition”. The first time you start speech recognition, it will run through the beginning setup and tutorial. The first tutorial lasts about 30 minutes and will teach you the commands you need to use with speech recognition while also training the software to recognize your voice. It helps to keep in mind when the tutorial becomes frustratingly repetitive, that it is also learning your vocal patterns.
    4. From the “Speech Recognition Options”, select “Train your computer to better understand you.” You’ll then be asked to read a rather lengthy text in one of several styles. This allows the computer to add to its database of vocal samples, improving recognition and reducing errors.
    5. When asked, have the program scan your “Documents” folder. Speech Recognition will add the words you commonly use to its database, and when it isn’t sure what word you meant it will recommend words to you based on how often you use words in your writing.

    It’s probably best if you find a quiet, secluded area to run through the set-up. First of all, you want your voice and only your voice to register when you’re training the software. More importantly, people will give you all sorts of crazy looks when they see you talking gibberish to your computer.

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    Once you’re set up, you can begin to enjoy the wonders of modern speech recognition. When you ran the tutorial, you learned how to do most basic tasks, so I won’t revisit those, but here are a few general tips:

    • Use speech recognition in a quiet place. If your microphone is any good at all, it will pick up all the stray noises in your vicinity and attempt to transcribe them. For some reason, my PC interprets every random sound as the word “if”.
    • Turn speech recognition off when you’re thinking. You say “stop listening” to put speech recognition into “sleep” mode; it awakes when you say “start listening”. For some reason, having it waiting and ready to transcribe when I’m thinking makes me feel rushed and nervous and I end up not being able to concentrate; turning off speech recognition is a way of acknowledging to myself that I can think things through as long as I need to. Plus, leaving it on is just inviting a string of random gibberish as the program transcribes the noise you make moving around, working, and even breathing.
    • Speak strongly and clearly. It helps to pretend you’re giving a speech. Use your best “Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address” voice.
    • “Spell it”. When you introduce a new word to the software’s vocabulary, or when you use a word that sounds like a lot of other words, the program is liable to screw up. Just say “spell it’ and spell the word out, slowly and precisely.
    • Retrain from time to time. As you get better at this (and it does take a while) you’ll change the way you talk — you’ll learn to speak more clearly, and you’ll become more confident thinking “on the fly”. Every once in a while, run through the tutorial and voice training, and have it scan your documents to pick up any new words. This has the added benefit of reminding you of things you’ve forgotten you could do.
    • Be patient. Don’t get too discouraged when you get a lot of errors on your first (and second, and third) try. You will get better at this with practice.

    There are good reasons to use speech recognition beside physical impairment that makes typing difficult or impossible. Using it well requires a level of vocal control and clarity that we don’t often practice, which helps to improve your speaking ability. It also helps learn to think on your feet — you’ll be surprised at how hard it is at first to compose meaningful sentences while speaking! It’s also a good way to move from a written draft to a typed draft; speaking your sentences aloud helps to catch awkward, unnatural phrasings that the eye tends to skip over. It’s also a good way to transcribe voice notes if you’re the kind of person that uses a digital recorder to take reminders over the course of the day.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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