Speech recognition has come a long way. Most people speak quicker than they type, but Office has yet to fully embrace speech recognition. Dictate aims to change this – it’s a free plugin for Word, Outlook and PowerPoint that taps into Cortana’s speech-recognition engine to give you the power to dictate documents, emails and presentations.
Dictate is produced by Microsoft’s Garage arm, which houses small, self-contained teams who tinker with new technology. This means it’s low on fancy features, but high on key functionality.
Installation is simple enough, and then you’ll find a new Dictate tab on the Office ribbon. Select it and there’s a threadbare collection of options. First, set the 'From' drop-down to match your language and region (20 languages, plus regional variations, are supported), so Dictate can understand you better. The 'To' drop-down allows you to translate your dictation into another language if you wish – over 60 are supported out of the box, using Bing’s translation engine.
Finally, click the 'Manual Punctuation' button if you’d rather control punctuation through phrases like 'period' and 'question mark' rather than have Dictate attempt to automatically punctuate as you speak (it’s surprisingly good, but only works with English so far).
Dictate works with your default mic, so you’ll need to set that up via the Sounds icon in the Taskbar Notification area, then it’s just a case of clicking the Start button and you can start dictating. A response bar in the Dictation tab shows you if your voice is being picked up, and then reasonably quickly words will start to appear.
Dictate works reasonably well, but mistakes will be made, and you’ll need to keep an eye as you go – you can still type while dictating, so it’s up to you if you want to try correcting yourself while you carry on.
This download is for 32-bit versions of Office. Click here to get the 64-bit version (find out which version of Office you’re running from the File ribbon – choose Account and click 'About Word').
Dictate does what it says on the tin – and by tapping into Cortana, it’s guaranteed to deliver more than passable results.