SolutionBase: Using speech recognition in Windows XP

For a long time, the only way you could get data into your computer was by using a keyboard. Now you can use a microphone to speak commands and enter data. Here's how to make speech recognition work with Windows XP.

Speech recognition allows you to dictate your text into various programs such as Microsoft Word leaving you a little more hands-free. You can open menu items, toolbars, dialog boxes, and have text typed in using your own voice. In other words, your computer is literally at your command. And here is how you do it.

Author's note

In this article I will describe how to install and configure speech recognition in Windows XP. The article assumes that your computer is running Windows XP with at least service pack 1, Microsoft Office XP and that it is equipped with a microphone.

Speech recognition requirements

You only require four things in order to use speech recognition in Windows XP. These requirements include:

  • Service Pack 1 (or later) for Windows XP
  • Microsoft Speech Recognition Engine 5.0
  • Application that supports speech recognition
  • Microphone

The Microsoft Speech Recognition Engine (SRE) is not included with Windows XP. You can acquire it by installing any of the Microsoft Office XP/2003 applications or by purchasing and installing the Windows XP Plus Pack 5.0

When it comes to applications that support speech recognition, you do not necessarily need to go out and purchase new software. Some applications that come with Windows XP, including Outlook Express and Notepad support speech recognition. You just need to enable support of advanced text services (as you will see later in this article).

Installing the speech recognition engine

If you are unsure if the speech recognition engine is already installed on the computer, you can check the Speech Properties dialog box as seen in Figure A. Within the Control Panel, open the Speech applet. If there is no Speech Recognition tab available from the Speech Properties dialog box, the engine has not been installed.

Figure A

If the Speech Recognition tab is not available, the speech recognition engine has not been installed.

You can install the SRE by completing the steps below. This method requires you to have the Microsoft Office XP installation CD on hand.

  1. Click Start and click Control Panel.
  2. Double click Add or Remove Programs.
  3. Click Change or Remove Programs and click Microsoft Office XP.
  4. Click Change.
  5. Select Add or Remove Features and click Next.
  6. From the list of features to install, double click Office Shared Features.
  7. Double click Alternative User Input.
  8. Click Speech and click the down arrow, as seen in Figure B.

Figure B

Installing the speech recognition engine using the Add or Remove Programs applet
  1. Select Run from My Computer.
  2. Click the Update button.

Once the SRE has been added, you can enable it in any of the Microsoft Office applications. For example, in Microsoft Word, click the Speech option from the Tools menu. If prompted, insert the Microsoft Office XP installation CD to complete the installation.

Configuring speech recognition settings

The speech recognition engine can be controlled using the Speech applet in the control panel. The settings that can be configured on the Speech Recognition tab include the following:

  • Speech Recognition Engine settings
  • Speech Recognition profile settings
  • Speech recognition accuracy
  • Microphone settings

Speech Recognition Engine Settings

From the Speech Recognition tab, you can select the SRE to use. If multiple engines are installed, you can use the drop down arrow under the Language section to select which one to use. Some engines will also support special features. You can click the Settings button beside the SRE to configure such features, as seen in Figure C. If the Settings button is not available, it simply means that the engine selected does not support any custom features.

Figure C

Speech Recognition settings can be controlled through the Speech applet.

Speech recognition profile settings

Windows XP stores recognition profiles. The information stored within a profile is used to recognize your voice. You can create different profiles for different users or for different noise environments. To change speech recognition profile setting options, use the steps listed below:

  1. Click Start and click Control Panel.
  2. Double click the Speech applet.
  3. Click the Speech Recognition tab.
  4. Under Recognition Profiles, highlight the profile you want to configure.
  5. Click the Settings button.
  6. Use the sliders to configure the following two options:
  • Pronunciation Sensitivity - This setting allows you to control the confidence level. Moving the slider to tells Windows XP that you want the computer to reject any command when it is not confident of what you said. When you use this setting, the computer makes fewer recognition errors but more frequently rejects your commands. Therefore, you may have to enunciate more slowly and clearly. By moving the slider to Low sensitivity, Windows XP will respond to your command when it has almost no confidence that it has correctly recognized what you said. When you use this setting, the computer recognizes fewer commands but rarely rejects a command. This option affects only command and control programs.
  • Accuracy vs. Recognition Response Time - This setting allows you to configure the accuracy/response time. When you move the slider to the Low/Fast setting, the computer performs limited processing. The recognized text appears on the screen quickly but with low accuracy. Conversely, by using the High/Slow setting, the computer processes more for higher accuracy but produces the dictated text more slowly. This option affects command-and-control programs and dictation programs.
  • Click Ok once you have made your configuration changes to return to the Speech Recognition tab.

    Training your profile

    Under the Recognition Profiles section, you will also see an addition button called Train Profile. This allows you to train your profile to improve speech recognition accuracy. The more the speech engine knows about your particular style of speaking and the sounds in your environment, the more accurate it will be.

    When you click the Train Profile button, the Voice Training Wizard will appear. The wizard will collect voice samples from you so that it can adjust to your particular speaking style.

    Microphone settings

    Finally, at the bottom of the Speech Recognition tab, you can configure microphone settings. Keep in mind that speech recognition performance is dependent on the type of microphone you are using and different microphones will have specific requirements.

    The Microphone Wizard will appear once you click the Configure Microphone button. The wizard will walk you through the process of configuring and testing your microphone for use with speech recognition.

    Getting ready to use speech recognition

    Assuming that you have completed all the tasks described above, you are almost ready to start using speech recognition in Windows XP. Open the Regional and Language Options applet within the Control Panel. On the Languages tab, click the Details button. The Text Services and Input Languages dialog box will appear.

    Under Installed services, select Speech Recognition and click the Properties button. The Speech input settings dialog box will appear as shown in Figure D.

    Figure D

    Configuring various speech input settings

    Click OK after you have configured the Advanced settings. The Language Bar button is used to configure how you want the Language Bar to appear. The available options include the following:

  • Show the Language Bar on the desktop
  • Show the Language bar as transparent when inactive
  • Show additional Language bar icons in the taskbar
  • Show text labels on the Language bar
  • The Advanced tab of the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box is used to configure how Windows XP interacts with the Speech Recognition Engine. Place a check beside the Extend support of advanced text services to all programs. Click OK and click Yes to restart your computer. After logging on, the Language Bar will now appear on the desktop and you can begin talking to your computer.

    Using speech recognition

    At this point, you need to know a little about the two different input modes: Dictation and Voice Command. Dictation Mode is used when you want the words you speak turned into text. For example, instead of typing a document, you can use Dictation mode.

    As you speak, the text is displayed in your document. Voice Command mode is used to select menu items, toolbar items, open dialog boxes, and task pane items. If you wanted to format selected text in your document as bold, you would switch to Voice Command mode and say "Bold". You can change between Dictation and Voice Command mode by clicking the appropriate buttons on the Language bar or you can simply say "Dictation" or "Voice command".

    You can now try out the speech recognition capabilities of Windows XP. Open a program such as Microsoft Word or Notepad and click the Microphone icon on the Language bar. Click or say "Dictation" and start talking. Word will automatically start entering your text. With a little self-exploration you will soon see the benefit of speech-recognition technology.

    Speak and be heard

    Whether you are entering data, editing, or gaming, the Speech Recognition technology in Windows XP is a great way for you to enhance your experience. Tapping into the technology only requires a microphone, speech recognition engine, and a few configuration updates. Windows XP will then be ready to convert your spoken words into text.