MacMost Now 622: Speech Recognition For Your Mac

While Siri has brought speech commands to the iPhone 4S, Mac users have long had the ability to speak commands to your computers. Learn how to enable Speakable Items on your Mac, find out which commands work and how. You can also add custom commands and have your Mac speak to you.

Video Transcript
HI, this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now. Everybody seems to be talking about the Siri the new voice recognition assistance only available on the i-phone for us. But did you know that you can talk to your Mac as well and in effect you could have done this for years using speakable items. So to turn on the speakable items, go in your system preferences to speech. And then here you have got the speech recognition and text to speech. Turn speakable items to on, and you will get a couple of extra items in your desk top. One is this low round window in here and another is the set as speech commands. If you don't see the set as speech commands, you can click here and you can open or close it right there. Now if you are looking at this window, you can see the list of commands that you can speak and remark well here. Now it is not like Siri where trying to interpret when you say. You have to say exactly this and it is important to look at this list and find out what the one you really want is. For instance, I want to open safari, and in order to do this I can see here the Skype key needs to be pressed. I am going to hold this Skype key down and speak what I want into my Mac's microphone. -- Switch to Safari' and you can see it is done it and opened up the safari. So in order to figure how the speakable item speech recognition works, go to the settings area here, you can choose the microphone you are using and you can even calibrate the microphone by saying several things to it. You can also choose how it listens to you. So you can have it when, the key is pressed, you can change the key or you can change it actually listened for a specific word which is always listening to say that word then your command and then to listen to what you have to say. You can also have an acknowledgement, a little sound that plays every time that it acknowledges something that you are saying. "switch to safari" "Switching to safari" I can also change what commands are available. That is to come to commands and then checking off all the sets which you want to be included. And you can look here on the list to see what you get like the menu bar you get these commands here just to activate the menu bars the front window you get these commands. Some of these are very specific to speakable items things like -- tell me a joke' and -- what day is it?' and you can also configure these preferences since global speakable items, I can configure it to allow some variations in what I say. So I can say what is the time or tell me the time and to activate the same item. Under address book, I can actually go in here and change the check boxes here, so some of these, ah some of the names are included, some of the names that are similar, and is always mistaking, you can a kind of mess with those settings too to get better results. Now, in many ways Siri is much more advanced than this, it is going back to the server and trying to interpret what it is that you want and following along with a conversation. Now you can't do that with the speakable items here, but you can actually define your own actions, something you can't do with Siri. So here under commands, I can click -- open the speakable items folder' and it opens the folder on my hard drive that has a lot of items in there. They are actually files in here with the names of the things that you want to speak. The core thing is you can add your own items here. Now it can be as difficult as creating something in automater, a script that does something or it can be something as easy as just having a web short cut. So friends since I wanted to tell me my local weather a kind of like Siri does, but I wanted to do this from this website here. So here is my local weather for Denver. I am going to drag this URL into the speakable items folder, I am going to close this fire window now, and here I have got a web short cut that you might have like on your desktop that you can double click on it and go to that webpage. I am going to rename it to -- what is the weather like today?' and that is what it is called there just as a file. Now I can go to speakable items and I can speak that and it should activate that file and take me to that webpage. "What is the weather like today?" "What is the weather like today?" Now the other side to your speech recognition is the text to speech and this is where you can get your Mac speak to you. You can choose a voice here that voice will also be used on the other side to you. We have a male voice here and I choose the Victoria. Here it is a sort like Siri and then I can select speak selected text when option and escape key is pressed. And there is a bunch of other options here for announcing alerts, speaking those aloud and having clock time announce things like that and even the speaking rate. So friends having turned on this I can go back to safari and I can highlight the forecast and the options and escape and it will be read to me. "Mostly sunny. Highs in the mid to upper 70s" and there you go. There is a really quick look at speech recognition on the Mac. There is a lot you can do and lot of ways you can customize it. So take a look, play around . hope you find it useful. Till next time, this is Gary with MacMost Now."

Comments: 13 Responses to “MacMost Now 622: Speech Recognition For Your Mac”

    Robert Poland
    10/27/11 @ 9:47 am


    It appears that the “Key Repeat” must be turned off to use the esc key for speech commands.

    10/27/11 @ 11:09 am

    I cannot get this to work, based on the video instructions. I tried both the ESC button and also the word “computer” for the continuous speech option. Nothing worked. I also calibrated the mike, but nothing changed when I reset the mike. Nothing played and the words I used did not light up on the screen. Is there a printed step by step instruction I can go to? I can usually get things to work if I have detailed printed instructions.

    Robert Poland said to turn off the “Key Repeat.” Where do I find the “Key Repeat”?

      10/27/11 @ 11:19 am

      Are you sure your microphone is on and receiving audio? Check you sound input settings.

        Patti Canada
        10/27/11 @ 1:54 pm

        I am having the same problem. No voice. My mike is working.I read there is a problem with this feature in Lion.I tried it with my macbook pro and my imac.

          11/28/11 @ 11:07 pm

          Did you ever get this to work? I have the SAME issue.
          I have a mac mini. The microphone is a USB Mic, and it works perfectly fine and registers the audio input in the general audio / microphone preferences pane. But when I go to the speech preferences, and try to calibrate, it is like the microphone doesn’t register at all. Is this an apple bug?

    10/27/11 @ 11:10 am

    I have a 17″ MacBook Pro

    Robert Poland
    10/27/11 @ 12:15 pm

    To turn off the Key Repeat go to System Preferences/Keyboard Keyboard Tab.

    11/3/11 @ 9:10 pm

    Gary, it repeats the commands, but the only command it actuallly performs is “quit” an application. Any suggestion? I seem to have more luck with the Escape key, than I do if I use a keyword before the command.

    Also…if I am in Safari and I want to switch to Mail, does the Mail app have to already be open in order to switch to it?

      11/3/11 @ 9:14 pm

      Not sure. Hard to tell. Just keep experimenting.

    jac mills
    1/19/12 @ 11:45 am


    I’ve had my macbook two years and did not have a clue about this one. You do wonderful things. Bloody amazing!

    LFJ Gill
    8/15/12 @ 12:00 pm

    Hi Gary–Your videos have helped me more than anything else with Mac issues. I have a MacBook Pro 08 or 09 with Snow Leopard.
    Question: Is there by now, or is there on the horizon, any *better* speech recognition software than Dragon Dictate 2.5 for the Mac, for speech-to-text? All the comments I find up to the end of 2011 still say nothing works as well as Dragon 11 for the PC. [I am allergic to PC’s, so that does me no good!] Thanks. Leila 8.15.12

      8/15/12 @ 1:25 pm

      So I’m not sure what you are asking. Dragon has a Mac version and a PC version. They aren’t exactly the same — but pretty close as far as I know (never used the PC version). So why not use Dragon for Mac? What feature is it missing that you need?

    Andy Einhorn
    10/8/12 @ 11:07 am

    Hi, I am have trouble with Siri and saying 1, 2, 3 or 1. new paragraph 2. new paragraph. It shows up one, two, three. or one. two. three.

    Any suggestions?

    Many Thanks!

    Andrew Einhorn

Comments Closed.