The new dictation feature of Mountain Lion lets you speak short sentences and it will translate to text. You can use dictation in apps like TextEdit and Pages. Unlike third-party solutions, it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. But it is useful for tweets, text messages and other short bits of text.

Video Transcript (Click to Expand)
Hi, this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today’s episode let’t take a look at the new dictation feature in Mountain Lion

So on IOS 5 on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch we got Siri. Part of Siri is the ability to dictate text and be able to speak messages, emails, all sorts of things. You can now do the same thing in Mountain Lion, at least the dictation part.

The dictation feature is part of the system and uses the same basic principle where you speak the audio that is then sent to Apple servers which then do the translation and the text is sent back. So it is not the functionality of Siri. It is just this one feature of it. Let’s take a look at how it works.

So the first thing you want to do is to head over to System Preferences and go the Dictation & Speech pane. This is where you can turn on dictation. Now there are a few different options. For instance the keyboard shortcut that activates dictation. So when you by default press the fn key quickly twice it will start listening to you. But you can set it to something else or even customize it. Or turn off the shortcuts altogether.

You can also select the language. You have a few languages to start with but like IOS I expect there to be more languages available. If you have more than one mike you can set the microphone here as well and kind of test the levels here to see how well it is doing with that specific microphone.

There is a little button here that warns you of privacy because what happens of course is that the audio you speak is sent to the Apple servers, is translated into text, and sent back. So I suppose in some corporate environments there is some security policies that may give you pause for using this feature. But it is basically the same as what people have been doing now on the iPhone now with Siri for a while.

So let’s try it out now using TextEdit. I am going to hit the fn key quickly twice and see how it works. (Two tones are heard) “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now you can see what I did there I hit the fn key twice and when I was done I hit it again. My finger is poised over it and it seemed pretty natural. You can see it worked. I can also use my cursor and click the done button. Notice the microphone there was kind of giving me an idea of the levels of my voice so I knew that it was working.

Then it sent it to Apple using my fast connection and sent it back this text and it got it perfectly. At the end I said the word “period”. I am used to speaking like that to my iPhone for dictation there and you can see that it translated the word period there to the symbol period perfectly. It can do that with other punctuation as well. “Question mark; exclamation point, comma, dash, ampersand, at sign”

Now what is missing from Mac OS 10 dictation as opposed to IOS dictation is the ability to use special commands like “all caps on” and such. A lot of people have been using that for special features like being able to spell out words and it doesn’t seem to be there in dictation, at least not yet. Now since it takes place on the server I assume Apple could add that without even requiring any kind of update on your Mac.

Another thing about dictation that is different than say using third party apps is that you can only do it in short bits. You have to do it in thirty seconds or less. So it is good for doing basically doing one sentence at a time. So a tweet or a quick text message is great to do. If you are going to try to do it for a longer document you are going to have to do basically one sentence at a time. You are going to want to do it anyway like that because you don’t see what is being translated as you speak. So if you have something really long, like thirty seconds, you have to do the entire thing, then stop it, then get the translation and if it hasn’t done it perfectly then you are going to have to go in and edit. So doing it one sentence at a time kind of makes sense.

Of course, with anything like this, you can imagine that it works better in a nice quiet room where the only sound is your voice, as opposed to a public place with other voices or if you have music going on in the background, and if you speak somewhat slowly and clearly.

I hope that you found this look at Mountain Lion dictation useful. Until next time, this is Gary with MacMost Now.

13 Responses to “MacMost Now 744: Dictation With Mountain Lion”

  1. Suzanne says:

    I have a pre-Lion Mac keyboard. What does the FN key look like?

    • It simply has the text “fn” on it. Its location depends on the Mac model you have, or the keyboard model if it is a separate keyboard. Usually at the bottom left corner. On extended keyboards it could be with the home, end, page up, page down and delete keys above the arrows.

  2. Larry Pertl says:

    I watched the video and tried it with pages and it worked great, however when I finished speaking I clicked on the done area and it filled in what I said. I can not get it to work with the short cut and have to go into edit every time and select start dictation. Wanted to know why it won’t work with the short cut method, but works great the other way?

  3. dominique says:

    Hi Gary,

    I think you made a mistake, the iPod touch does not have Siri, I have an iPod touch 4º generation and i don´t see Siri. Am i right?
    Keep the good work!

  4. Johnny Robish says:

    Another fantastic lesson Gary! Thanks so much!

  5. Sudhakar says:

    Another excellent lesson, Thank you so much

  6. Carlos says:

    Gary, thanks for this amazing useful service you provide.
    I have been using dictation on my MacBook Pro retina since I got it and hardly ever have to type anymore. The voice recognition is amazingly good and I’m only using the computer’s microphone. In fact the recognition is much better than the one I get at my hospital dictating medical reports with powerscribe.

  7. Bill Beers says:

    How does one make ML dictation spell the word ‘period’? Is the only way to actually spell it out?


    • I don’t think there is a way. I get the feeling that dictation is really meant for short things like messages. It doesn’t have the deep features you find in Dragon and other tools.

    • John Pollard says:

      If I say the word period twice it seems to work, But it puts a second period in and I just edit that out by hand. It’s clunky no doubt.

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