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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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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