How to turn on speech recognition and dictation in Windows 10

Activating speech recognition in Windows 10 requires a deep dive into configuration settings.

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Image: RyanKing999, Getty Images/iStockphoto

As the quality of speech-to-text technology improves, the overall usefulness of speech recognition features and applications in our computing devices has improved as well. Whether it means giving commands to your favorite smart device at home or your mobile smartphone, "talking" to your digital assistant has become a common and effective way to interface with your connected world.

Microsoft Windows 10 has its own version of a speech-recognizing digital assistant in Cortana. Through this set of applications and features, users can give their PCs commands, initiate calendar entries, make phone calls, and perform a slew of other functions. However, one feature of speech recognition often overlooked is the ability to dictate text. This underutilized feature can be particularly useful in certain business settings where text must be entered, but a keyboard would be inconvenient.

This how-to tutorial shows you how to turn on speech recognition in Windows 10, how to configure the settings, and then how to use the feature for the purpose of dictation. The steps outlined presume you have a working microphone already connected to your PC.

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Speech recognition

The appropriate speech recognition settings in Windows 10 tend to be buried deep within the configuration menus. To activate speech recognition in Windows 10, click or tap the Start Menu button in the lower left-hand corner of the typical desktop and click the Settings icon. Click the Time & language item on the Settings screen and then click the Speech item in the left navigation bar. Scroll down to the Speech, inking & typing privacy settings item under Related Settings, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

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Figure A

On the next page (Figure B), click the Turn on speech services and typing suggestions button to activate Cortana and speech recognition. Note, you should have a working microphone already connected to your PC at this point.

Figure B

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Figure B

It is also important to note that once you turn this feature on, Windows 10, and by extension, Microsoft will begin tracking your behavior and interaction using speech recognition and Cortana. The company does this in an attempt to refine and improve the experience, but this transfer of data does involve privacy issues and requires your acknowledgment.

With Cortana initiated, you can now fill out forms, dictate text, and give commands just by talking to your computer. To activate speech-to-text dictation in Windows 10, press the Windows key plus H (Windows key-H). The Cortana system will open a small box and begin listening and then typing your words as you say them into the microphone, as you can see in Figure C.

Figure C

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Figure C

The speech-to-text quality has greatly improved over the years and, in general, whatever you say will appear on your screen as intended. However, the feature is not perfect and if you want to use Cortana for dictation on a regular basis, you need to practice your technique and master some commands. For example, you must say any punctuation you want to add to your text out-loud. Once mastered, a user can be as productive dictating as if they were typing on a keyboard.

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