You are here: Home » productivity » Talk, don’t type: Translating via Dragon Dictate and Dragon Naturally Speaking

Talk, don’t type: Translating via Dragon Dictate and Dragon Naturally Speaking

by Catherine Jan on September 12, 2011

This blog post has been brought to you today by the industrious voices of Matthew Young and Pippa Sandford.

I dictated a tweet requesting feedback on speech recognition tools, and these savvy Dragon users agreed to share their thoughts about translating out loud: Matthew Young, a Japanese to English translator, uses Dragon Dictate (for Mac), and Pippa Sandford, a French and Italian to English translator, uses Dragon Naturally Speaking (for PC).

Q1: What are the biggest advantages of using Dragon over typing?

Matthew: Being able to translate more words per day. I’m not a touch typist, so this is the primary benefit for me.

Matt Young

However, my interest in voice recognition software stems from a workshop held by a fellow Japanese translator who suffers badly from incurable repetitive strain injury (RSI). She uses Dragon Naturally Speaking for that reason, so that’s also in the back of my mind as a secondary benefit of the product.

Also, my posture while translating has also improved. You don’t need to be right over your keyboard, and it’s much easier to sit in a more natural, comfortable position, and even move about.

Pippa: Speed. I can get a first draft down quickly, which means I usually have time to leave the whole job for a day or so before rereading it for the last time. This is probably the single most important factor in improving quality, for me.

Pippa Sandford

Actually, when I first got Dragon about fifteen years ago, I kept putting off installing it. Then one night I realized I’d misread a deadline and had 1300 words on hypercholesterolaemia to deliver first thing the next morning, not lunchtime.

I wasn’t physically capable of typing it out after a day’s work, so reckoned I had nothing to lose by just going for it with Dragon. Installation and training took about an hour (it’s much quicker now), and I then dictated the whole translation straight off in about 20 minutes, including terminology checking, formatting and post-editing. There was even time for a few hours’ sleep before final proofing and delivery on time.

Also, I think I write more clearly when I’m dictating. For a long time I’ve proofed some jobs by reading them aloud. Ears seem to be less forgiving of awkward constructions than eyes are.

Q2: What else do you like about Dragon?

Matthew: Aside from increased productivity, I like the remarkably good dictation accuracy even when translating highly technical material.

I like being able to move around the room and still dictate, having no tingly fingers after a long day of typing, and being able to listen to music at a reasonable volume without it affecting dictation accuracy.

Pippa: Other than the speed with which I can get a first draft down, I don’t get RSI in my wrists any longer, even though I still use the keyboard a lot.

I like the “disconnect” between my brain and the computer, too. When I’m typing, there’s a constant flow of words from brain to fingers to screen. With dictation, I think I take a more considered approach for the first draft. I certainly edit less (except for the dictos!).

Q3: What do you dislike about Dragon?

Matthew: It’s a very memory-heavy programme. Until last week, I was using a 5-year-old iMac with 4GB of RAM, and Dragon Dictate could make the computer run slowly if I had several other programmes running (which I generally did). However, I have just upgraded to a new iMac with a quad-core processor and 16GB of RAM, and this problem has vanished completely. It’s now almost telepathically fast.

Also, while it is generally good at learning which homonyms to select based on frequency of use (such as cited instead of sighted), there are a few it just won’t learn. For example it always gives me “Greece” instead of “grease” despite being corrected dozens of times.

Pippa: Sometimes it’s frustrating when it doesn’t recognize words I know that I’ve added or trained it to recognize. But I do find that retraining or repeatedly correcting them does actually work in the end. And you only need one text full of “hypercholesterolaemia” and “triglyceridaemia” to remind yourself why it’s worth the effort!

Q4: Does Dragon change the way you translate?

Matthew: I don’t think it’s changed the way I translate, probably because I’m a scientific translator. Literary translators may find that it does change the way they translate.

It has altered the way I write emails. I’m sure they’re often more like spoken English than written English these days, which isn’t a problem for 90% of the emails I send.

Pippa: You also have to edit in a slightly different way, to make sure you pick up words that sound alike or dictos which are so wildly different from what you intended. You get used to this, and it doesn’t take any longer than normal editing.

I don’t edit and proof using my voice—I use the keyboard and mouse as I find it quicker and more accurate.

Q5: Do you use Dragon with a CAT tool?

Matthew: Dragon Dictate works extremely well with AppleTrans (an old and fairly basic CAT tool, but easy to use and extremely stable), but I had all sorts of problems when I tried to use it with WordFast Classic, which crashed on almost every sentence. However, that may have been at least partly due to the memory issue I mentioned above. I’m planning to try the Dragon Dictate/WordFast combination again on my new iMac and see if it behaves better.

Pippa: I use Dragon Naturally Speaking with SDLX. I think DNS is optimized to work with Trados, and with SDLX you can’t use formatting or correction. But since Dragon had got used to my voice and is pretty accurate, that hasn’t been a problem. The real advantage is that I can just rattle through a text without having to worry about formatting or positioning the cursor.

Q6: What advice would you give to someone who is about to get Dragon?

Matthew: Don’t set your sights too high. If you buy Dragon Dictate expecting your keyboard to become completely redundant, you’ll probably end up disappointed. You can carry out most formatting and editing functions using Dragon Dictate, but I have found that it can be quicker to use the keyboard for some things. For example, I could use the “vocabulary editor” to teach it chemical terms such as “bis(diisopropylaminomethyl)phenylboronic acid” but there’s little point. It may well struggle with such a long word, and there’s a good chance I’ll never need it again anyway. Overall, I would estimate that my keyboard usage has been reduced by around 95%, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

Get a good wireless headset. The basic headset supplied by Nuance is fine in terms of accuracy, but gets pretty uncomfortable (hot ears) after a whole day of dictating, and also makes it hard to hear music, phone calls, doorbells etc. I spent about £150 (€170 or US$240) on a Plantronics W430, which is small, light and comfortable and can do about 8 hours on a single charge. It was money well spent— being able to walk about as you translate is a surprisingly liberating experience.

Drink plenty. Talking all day makes you thirstier than you might imagine.

Pippa: Be patient with it. Train it and correct mistakes. The program does learn eventually.

Learn to use it creatively. I’ve only scratched the surface with it, but if you use macros or shortcuts it’s even more powerful. For example, you can dictate just one word of a title, company name etc. that you may need to insert regularly, but train the whole phrase so that it’s inserted automatically.

Matt and Pippa, thank you! Now I’d love to hear what other translators think of voice recognition. Have you tried it? Please contribute to the discussion in the comments.