How to Use Dictation on a Mac

how to use dictation on a mac

If you’re tired of typing on your Mac, why not use your voice to enter text instead? Learn how to use dictation on a Mac in this guide.

Do you find typing a struggle? Do you wish that you could just say what you want to write and have it magically translated into text on your Mac?

Well, with Mac dictation, you can do exactly that. Your Mac comes with native software that will translate what you say into text, and you can use it anywhere you can enter text on your Mac.

Is it any good, and how do you get it to work in the first place? Learn how to use dictation on a Mac below.

How to Enable Dictation on a Mac

To begin using dictation on a Mac, you first need to enable it. By default, dictation isn’t enabled on a Mac. Once enabled, you can also set up a keyboard shortcut to activate dictation.

To enable dictation on a Mac:

  1. Click the Apple icon in the menu bar.
    mac apple menu
  2. Select System Settings.
    mac system settings
  3. In the left-hand menu, select Keyboard.
    mac keyboard settings
  4. Scroll down to the Dictation section and toggle Use Dictation Wherever You Can Type Text on.
    mac enable dictation
  5. You can set the dictation language, microphone source, and enable or disable auto punctuation, which saves you from having to say ‘period’ over and over.
    mac dictation settings
  6. Select a shortcut you want to use to activate dictation by clicking the Shortcut drop-down.
    mac dictation shortcut
  7. You can choose one of the preset options or click Customize to enter your own keyboard shortcut.
    mac dictation shortcut options
  8. Close System Settings and dictation is ready to use on your Mac.

How to Start Dictation on a Mac

Once you have enabled dictation on your Mac, you’re ready to start using it. You can use the shortcut you set up above (or the default shortcut if you didn’t change it) or you can use the menu bar to get your Mac to start listening to what you’re saying.

To start dictation on a Mac:

  1. Click where you want your text to appear. Apple claims that you can use dictation anywhere on your Mac where you can enter text, and this does seem to be the case.
  2. Press the keyboard shortcut you set up when enabling dictation, if you did so. If you can’t remember what shortcut you set up, follow the steps in the section above and look for the Shortcut setting.
    mac dictation shortcut
  3. Alternatively, click Edit in the menu bar.
    mac edit menu
  4. Click Start Dictation.
    mac start dictation
  5. The microphone icon will appear, indicating that your computer is listening to your voice. You can now start dictating.
    mac dictation icon
  6. After 30 seconds of inactivity, dictation will end. To continue using it, you’ll need to start it again using one of the methods above.

How to Use Dictation on a Mac

Once dictation is enabled, and you’ve triggered it to start listening to you, you’re ready to start dictating. There are a few tips and tricks you can learn to get your text looking exactly like you want it to.

To use dictation on a Mac:

  1. Start speaking, and your Mac will enter the text that it hears.
  2. To add punctuation to your text, speak the name of the punctuation symbol. For example, to add a comma, say “comma” and then carry on dictating.
  3. To start a new line, say “new line” and your Mac should create a new line of text.
  4. For a new paragraph, saying “new paragraph” should start a new paragraph.
  5. If you need to type something in capital letters, say “all caps on” and the next phrase should appear in upper case. Say “all caps off” to resume standard formatting.
  6. If you only want to type a single word in capitals, say “all caps” and the next word will be all in upper case, but the next word will return to standard formatting.
  7. To write a phrase in Title Case, with the relevant words in the sentence capitalized, say “caps on” and then when you’re done say “caps off” to return to standard formatting.
  8. If you’re using a Mac with Apple Silicon, you can also insert emojis using your voice. Say “car emoji” or “eggplant emoji” and the appropriate emoji will be inserted into your text.

Some of the other useful commands you can use in dictation include:

  • Open square bracket: [
  • Close square bracket: ]
  • Open parenthesis: (
  • Close parenthesis: )
  • Colon: :
  • Semicolon: ;
  • Quote:
  • End quote:
  • Begin single quote:
  • End single quote:
  • Ellipsis:
  • Hyphen:
  • Ampersand: &
  • Asterisk: *
  • At sign: @
  • Hashtag sign: #
  • Equal sign: =
  • Plus sign: +
  • Minus sign:
  • Multiplication sign: x
  • Greater than sign: >
  • Less than sign: <
  • Dollar sign: $
  • Smiley face: :-)

How Good is Dictation on Mac?

As you might expect, dictation on Mac is far from perfect. The majority of the time you’ll get an accurate transcription of what you’ve said, but often you’ll be misheard.

For example, when I tried to dictate a sentence including the phrase ‘the words that I’m saying’ what I actually got was ‘the words the time saying’. It’s not the end of the world, but you need to be prepared to make some edits to your text as dictation is unlikely to get things 100% correct.

That said, the automatic punctuation works well, adding in commas and other punctuation mostly in the appropriate places. Trying to create new lines or new paragraphs doesn’t work quite as well. Quite often, there will be a significant lag between you asking for a new paragraph and one appearing in your text. This can cause you to repeat the command, leading to you ending up with multiple empty spaces in your text.

If you just trust that eventually your command will be carried out, however, then quite often the new paragraph will appear where you wanted it to.

Should You Use Dictation on Mac?

This is a question with no definitive answer. If you’re not the greatest typist, then using dictation can significantly speed up the amount of text you can get down on the page. You’ll need to go back through and make edits, but this may still mean that you get your finished text completed significantly quicker than you would by tapping one letter at a time on your keyboard.

However, if you’re fairly fluent at typing, then the chances are that you’re going to end up frustrated by the constant errors that appear in your text. It can also feel a little strange to be talking out loud to your computer and isn’t something you can do in a noisy environment.

I tried a quick test with the two paragraphs that start this section and found that after going back and fixing the errors in the dictated text, using dictation took about 20 seconds longer than it did to type it out. It may be that with practice you reduce the number of errors somewhat; your Mac will dictate whatever you say, so if you stumble over your words, you’re going to have a whole heap of edits to make.

The best advice is to give dictation a try and see if it works for you. It’s certainly not perfect, but you may find it’s good enough to become your text entry method of choice.

More Mac Tips and Tricks

Learning how to use dictation on a Mac gives you another option in how you interact with your Mac. It can speed up your text entry, although it’s far from perfect.

There are plenty of other useful tips to help you get more from your Mac. You can learn how to clear the Recents folder if you don’t want all your most recently accessed files to keep showing up in Finder. If you’re on the more recent versions of macOS, you can learn how to use Stage Manager on Mac to make working with multiple apps easier and more intuitive. And if you want to work with two apps at the same time, learning how to use Split Screen on Mac is a must.

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