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...

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