Quick tips for working with Siri

Having trouble with your personal assistant? Jesus Vigo offers a few tips for training Siri to respond better to commands.

As of iOS 6.0, Siri has supported all iterations of the iPhone and iPad. The "intelligent personal assistant" has been integrated into Apple's iOS lineup, arguably not without it's share of quirks.

Below are a few tips to resolve some of the more troublesome issues that plague Siri's usage and help your personal assistant work smarter, without having you the user, working harder.

Foreign languages

I personally speak multiple languages, and so does Siri! As of this writing, she speaks nine languages, with dialects derived from the base set. More are rumored to be under way, such as Portuguese.

To toggle the languages, go to Settings | General | Siri and tap Language to select from the available list.

The rest is pretty straightforward; speak to Siri the way you normally would, except in the selected language, and she will respond in that tongue.

Contact names

Now that Siri mastered languages, pronouncing names should be easier, right? Sadly, not if your name (or that of your contacts) aren't part of the supported language base. But the forward-thinking developers at Apple have a solution - phonics!

By going to the Contacts app, highlight a troublesome name and tap edit. Scroll down to Add Field and select Phonetic First Name or Phonetic Last Name (or both) whichever is the one that trips Siri up.

Next, enter the phonetic pronunciation of the name(s) and tap Done to save the changes.

Now try commanding Siri to call the contact. It may take some finagling to get it just right, but once you get it, you can save time on calling your most frequent contacts.

Add grammar/punctuation to dictation

Apple's new Dictation feature is based on Siri's voice recognition framework. With that said, if dictating notes, SMS, or emails is something you rely on to do hands-free, grammar and punctuation can be controlled vocally. There are built-in commands which, when spoken, will allow additional functionality in formatting how words are recorded.

For this, I'll provide both examples on the same note.

The top portion was spoken to Siri as, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog". While the bottom portion was spoken using the dictation commands* as "[quote] the quick brown fox [all caps] jumped [ellipsis] [new paragraph] over the lazy dog [exclamation point] [quote]".

Outside of the connectivity issues that can affect Siri's usefulness, the truth is that it works wonders providing answers to our questions and commands. The best part? Due to the reliance on Internet access, much of what powers Siri is programmable from backend servers, so extending the knowledgebase is a matter of continuing to add integrated services.s

*For a list of Dictation commands, I highly recommend searching Google for updates, as I could not find a full listing directly from Apple.


Jesus Vigo is a Network Administrator by day and owner of Mac|Jesus, LLC, specializing in Mac and Windows integration and providing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. He brings 15 years of experience and multiple certifications from seve...


The title is "Quick tips for working with Siri" and the "Takeaway" is "Having trouble with your personal assistant? Jesus Vigo offers a few tips for training Siri to respond better to commands." How are those two much different? Why does every single Tech Republic article NOT have a useful "takeaway" message to take away? Why repeat the meaning of the title with no further information? A realistic take away message might be something like "use phonics to edit difficult names that Siri gets wrong by default". Oh! Now I see what the article is going to give me! Now I can decide whether I want to read the full article or not. If you want to suck people into reading more articles by not providing a take away - why not just be honest about that?


How do I get Siri to use a different Maps, Email, or Calendar program?


Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Takeaway message....againĀ @anil_g!


There are a few workarounds available for Maps that I'll go into in a bit, but sadly nothing exists that I can find - not even Jailbroken - that would allow one to modify the default apps used by Siri when responding to various commands. To get an idea of the default apps used, command Siri with "What can you do?" and she'll present a listing of commands, along with the default applications the commands will be carried out on. This is a shame as I know that apps are many things to many people and some form of customization seems to be highly sought out by a lot of iOS users and sadly it's not available currently. As for workarounds, one popular tweak is to append the "via transit" suffix when asking Siri for directions. This will force Siri to prompt you to choose a mapping application which supports transit directions - which Apple's Maps offering does not at the moment. Once selected, anytime "via transit" is added to a request for directions, Siri will automatically go to your specified default app. This is a simple fix, but also one which can (and probably be patched) once Apple Maps supports transit directions, so I wouldn't expect it to stick around for long. If your iOS device is jailbroken, look to "MapsOpener" available from Cydia. This package installs itself as the default handler for all map links found in browsers, messages, etc. It has a known twitch from time to time when parsing addresses found in the Contacts app as those appear to be hardcoded to hand off to Apple Maps, but as the developers update the package it gets better at handling these. As food for thought, there are a wealth of additional options open to jailbroken devices with respect to additional commands Siri can process. SiriToggles makes great strides in this realm. But as to your question, there doesn't appear to be any clear cut solutions to this issue...yet!

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