in Uncategorized

Using dictation software to study foreign languages

There are many ways to study a foreign language. Books, private teachers, reading, listening, watching movies, writing articles are all valid strategies. But if you don’t live in an environment where the language isn’t spoken by its native speakers, you may have little speaking experience.

English is not my 1st language. In fact, it’s more of a 3rd one. But I do most of my work in English. I read articles and books, listen to podcasts, give interviews, write articles, talk to colleagues and speak at conferences. Still, I don’t speak English as much as I’d like to.

Last year I had a neighbor who emigrated from the United States. He wanted to study Hebrew and I wanted to practice my English. So we arranged to meet a couple of times each week for an hour or two. During the meetings we’ll talk English half the time and Hebrew the other. Later he left our neighborhood and I started to look for other solutions.

What I started to do is using dictation software on my Mac to write articles, reply to support requests and sometimes even for e-mail. I’ve also started to do the same on the iPhone and the iPad.

Dictating text instead of typing it has several benefits as a language study tool:

  • it teaches and trains the correct pronunciation of words
  • it forces to improve the accent
  • it improves enunciation
  • it can help with the fluency of speech

Of these, I find the pronunciation and accent aspects the most beneficial.

Dictation solutions

There are dedicated dictation software applications available for Macs and PCs. The best ones are available from Nuance. These are full-featured applications, they process your speech locally on your computer and they adapt to you. You can teach them both your vocabulary and train them to recognize your voice. They are not cheap, though.

The other solutions use cloud services to send your recorded speech to some servers that process the recording and send back the transcribed text. This is how dictation works on iOS devices and in various solutions by Google, including Android phones, Google voice search and Google Translate. These solutions are a little slower and require an Internet connection.

One interesting benefit of cloud solutions though is that they don’t adapt to your specific accent and speaking style. The cloud solutions assume a “standard” accent. In some cases, like on iOS, you can choose which accent you use to speak (American, UK, Canadian etc). But that’s the only configuration option available. This puts even more “pressure” on you to speak with the correct accent and improve your enunciation.

Of cloud solutions it seems that Google recognizes the most languages including Russian, Polish, Turkish, Arabic languages, Hebrew, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, Korean and more. You can download the Google Translate app for iOS and see exactly which languages it recognizes. Unfortunately Google Translate web site only appears to support English dictation for some reason.

To sum it up, if you’re studying a foreign language consider using the multitude of the available dictation solutions to train your speaking abilities in that language.

This article was dictated using Dragon Dictate for Mac from Nuance with some editing done later in the text editor.