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

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
  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

  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.

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
  • Show additional Language bar icons in the
  • 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

    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

    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.