With many available voice recognition software programs being extremely easy to use, "talking" to your computer can be a great benefit for anyone who wants (or needs) to free up their hands while composing documents or for individuals who never learned to type.

Many voice recognition software programs claim that users can "type" up to 160 words a minute once the user fully understands the software and has "trained it" to recognize their own voice and speech patterns. This is far faster than most of us can type. Some reports state that although the software companies advertise greater than 100 words per minute, the typical user will probably be closer to 40 words a minute when time is adjusted for correcting errors, spelling new words and editing.

Although it is probably more common to use voice recognition software for typing, you can use speech technology to do anything you can with a keyboard and mouse, like entering data into a spreadsheet and surfing the web.

In most cases, the setup of the software and hardware is relatively easy. The most difficult part of getting used to voice recognition software is the editing process. It's more difficult, but not impossible, to correct your mistakes by voice than to go back and edit your documents the old-fashioned way. This can slow you down, but once again, how well your system is "trained" is the key. If you have spent some time teaching your system to recognize your voice and the way you talk, then you will have less to edit and producing your documents by voice will be easier.

Environmental factors

Overall performance is usually helped by speaking clearly and keeping background noise to a minimum - so use in open areas, like cubicles, may cause some problems. Also, talking to your computer, instead of typing, may be distracting to those around you.

There are many software programs available and they vary widely in price and quality. Most programs cost somewhere between $100 and $1,000. Many speech recognition software manufacturers make several versions of their products - one for the budget-conscious and one for the professional heavy user.

In addition to software, you will also need a computer with adequate memory and speed and a good microphone. A cheap microphone will produce interference that will show up as mistakes in your document.

For someone suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome or another typing-related injury or illness, voice recognition software can be a great way to accommodate that employee on the job.

Some of the more popular voice recognition products available include:

  • Dragon Systems (Point and Speak and Naturally Speaking) - www.dragonsys.com
  • IBM (ViaVoice) - www.ibm.com/software/speech/
  • Lernout and Hauspie (Voice XpressAdvanced) - www.lhs.com
  • Phillips (Free Speech 2000) - www.copia.com.au/free_speech_2000.html

There are also speech recognition programs available for specific industries such as the medical and legal professions. These packages have a large library of industry-specific jargon included with the program.

Most of the newer products use continuous speech technology that allows users to speak in their normal voice at a normal rate. Most software providers say you shouldn't have any problems when you use their software as specified. To help prevent problems, there are various things you can do:

  • Talk in a normal tone of voice.
  • Sit up and do not lean forward, which decreases your lung capacity.
  • Take frequent breaks to give your voice a rest.
  • Drink a lot of liquid so that your throat does not get dry.

In terms of productivity, it's debatable whether or not voice recognition software will actually save you time, unless you are a slow typist. But for individuals with some type of temporary or permanent disability who either should not or cannot use a standard keyboard because of their condition, voice recognition is definitely a realistic option to be considered.