Dragon Naturally Speaking

By Caryl Frankenberger, Ed. M.


Dragon Naturally Speaking for PC users and Dragon Dictate for Mac users is another technological aid that facilitates the learning process for the dyslexic student and creates greater efficiency at the workplace. For those who have word-retrieval difficulties, grapho-motor weaknesses, or problems committing ideas to paper in a timely fashion, Dragon may be just the tool needed in order to improve writing skills. Dragon is a speech-recognition program that can be used to, among other things, dictate answers to homework questions, a five-paragraph essay, or even to write a novel. You can dictate an e-mail, surf the web using voice commands, or dictate on your Blackberry, iPhone, iPad or iPad touch.

Users dictate ideas and watch their words appear on the computer screen. Put on your headphones, load Dragon software onto your computer, and follow the required series of steps to create your own user profile. As part of this process you will need to read for roughly five minutes so that the software recognizes your voice. This is an important step because it establishes your initial accuracy. You are allowed to choose from a menu of readings that range from easy to more challenging. If your dyslexia negatively impacts your ability to read the selections, it is recommended that someone preview challenging words with you, so that you are familiar with them and can read them accurately when training.

When creating a user profile, Dragon will analyze your e-mails and documents in order to learn more about the vocabulary that you use. At any time you can add vocabulary by training words and you can create new words that stand for specific expressions you commonly use. Just go to view/edit where you can add the written form of the word and then the spoken form if it is different. For example, if you are writing a play and you want to write Act IV, you can add this to the written form and then put “act four” under the spoken form column and train it as such. Every time you say “act four” it will appear on the screen as Act IV. This works particularly well with unusual names and acronyms. In order to produce well-written documents it is important to learn the series of commands that make Dragon work most effectively. Commands such as “Cap that,” “Underline that,” and “New line” can be found on the Dragon Sidebar which automatically opens on the right-hand side of the screen. The Sidebar displays the most popular commands and can be docked anywhere or it can be hidden if you would like. It is important to familiarize yourself with the commands as you will need to know them.

Turn the microphone on and begin dictating. Dragon will automatically format certain kinds of text, such as dates, times, and percentages, and it will also begin sentences with capital letters and capitalize proper nouns it recognizes. However, you will have to tell Dragon when to capitalize other words, use commas, conclude sentences with punctuation, begin new paragraphs, etc.  For example, if you dictate the sentence “I am headed to Meeting Street School to play basketball with Sam, Sandy and Will.”, you will need to say “I am headed to “cap” meeting “cap” street ”cap” school to play basketball with Sam “comma”, “cap” sandy and “cap” will “period.” Dragon will not know that Sandy and Will are proper nouns. While this may seem challenging initially, these commands will become second nature. In fact, you are likely to become more proficient with punctuation because you talk about it so often. If you struggle to use punctuation accurately, you can check the auto-formatting option in Dragon’s Tool menu. Dragon will automatically add periods and commas if you would like.

As you dictate, Dragon will make errors, it just happens. Some of the errors will be your fault–perhaps you spoke too quickly, slurred your words or did not pronounce a word clearly. It is important to listen to the error in order to determine if the error was Dragon’s or yours. For example, if you say the word nice and it wrote mice, highlight the word and say “correct that.” You will then hear what you said and be able to determine the nature of the error. If it is Dragon’s error, you should train the word, which entails repeating the word, so that the software program will recognize the correct pronunciation. If the error is your fault, because you misspoke or mispronounced the word, simply repeat the word and continue. It is well worth training words because it strengthens your vocabulary and helps Dragon work more efficiently.

What We’ve Observed

In order to learn more about Dragon Naturally Speaking, YCDC asked six students to use the voice-activated software for six weeks. Five of the students were PC users and one was a Mac user. Each was given the Dragon DVD, a pair of headphones and 90 minutes of training. They also had access to the Nuance — Getting Started Tutorial; Ask the Dictator — You Tube; Getting Started with Dragon Video; and the on-line version of Dragon Speaking End User Notebook Version 11. In order to monitor each student’s progress, they were contacted weekly by the YCDC consultant who conducted the training.

The students provided some very interesting anecdotal information about how Dragon impacted them in unforeseen ways. One seventh grader had a history of written language weaknesses and he was challenging to understand because he spoke so quickly. During training he was told that if he did not slow down the rate at which he spoke, it was likely that Dragon would not be beneficial, as the program would not understand his speech. He laughed and admitted that his teachers and mother constantly tell him to slow down, because they do not always understand him. When speaking to this young man after the second week of training, he said, “I can do my homework so much faster. This is just unbelievable, I love it.” He went on to say that, “My teacher even noticed that I am speaking more clearly. She said that I am speaking slower.” His enthusiasm for Dragon never waned; each week that we spoke he raved about the program, commented about how quickly he could now complete his work and how his writing was getting stronger every day. His comments were uplifting: He embraced this technology and it changed the way in which he viewed the writing process. No longer was it a burden and, instead, it was a pleasure.

A senior in high school, who has a history of dysgraphia and a dislike for writing, found the process of dictating far easier than trying to commit his ideas to paper with a pencil or a pen. Because he did not have many papers during the six week project, he took time to “fool around.” He said, “If you had no hands you could use this to navigate the entire web. You can open explorer, move the mouse, talk out e-mails and even customize the command bar.” This young man spent time exploring the program and felt that the “tutorials were not very good” which resulted in his having to discover Dragon’s various uses on his own. Another student said, “Dragon isn’t as Mac friendly as it is PC friendly. I would make Dragon easier to use for Macs (mac users).” Another adult affiliated with the project experienced similar difficulty learning Dragon on a Mac.


Quick Points:

2 days to 4 weeks to learn how to use

Most popular use: writing papers

Middle schoolers, and upward will find this program helpful with their home assignments.

Dragon Naturally Speaking is a dication software that helps students and professionals alike. While initially it takes a bit of time to get started using the software proficiently, Dragon will save its user a lot of time. The students in our study learned the software in anywhere from a day or two to a month, with most getting the hang of it in a few weeks. While Dragon gets trained to a single voice per user, multiple users are allowed; however, each user must train independently from one another. Dragon shines as a tool for writing papers, or other homework that involves notetaking. Dragon users can also craft emails using the same word processing technology.

From Our Technology Study Consultant

I have been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for over 10 years. I can remember when creating a user profile required lengthy amounts of reading, and it was common for multiple mistakes to occur in just one sentence. This resulted in my having to spend a substantial amount of time training words. This is no longer the case. Creating a user profile takes all of 7 minutes and rarely do I make dictation errors. Dictating becomes a natural way of communicating in a short period of time. After roughly a week of using Dragon every day, you should be able to dictate with ease. Over the years I have found that the speed at which I speak has slowed moderately and that my ability to retrieve and organize language has improved. I like being able to go back to what I have written, read my work a second time and make any changes I deem necessary. When dictating, I use Dragon Pad, which saves directly to Microsoft Word. You can also dictate directly into most programs, including Word Perfect. Dragon shortens the time it takes me to write by at least 40 percent, as I can speak more rapidly than I can write or type. Having used Dragon for over 10 years, it has become the way that I write. Shifting back to handwriting or using the keyboard is no longer an option for me. Dictating is simply a better way.

Caryl Frankenberger, Ed.M.

For more than 25 years, Caryl Frankenberger, Ed.M., has been providing educational services to families in the US and abroad. A Harvard Graduate School educated psycho-educational diagnostician, school placement consultant, Cogmed coach and learning disabilities specialist. Caryl has evaluated over 2,500 children, adolescents and young adults.

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