Turn talk into text in Word 365 for Windows

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Modern Word has a powerful ‘Speech to Text’ option ‘Dictate’ which works a lot better than similar options in the past.

If you’d tried and been disappointed with dictating into Word, it’s time to give it another try.

Dictate is only available to Microsoft 365 subscribers with Office 365 software for Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android devices.  In this article we’ll look at how Dictate works in Word and Outlook for Windows.  It’s much the same on other platforms which we’ll look at separately.

Dictation in Word 365 (and Outlook 365) is cloud based.  It’s being improved regularly and isn’t as dependant on the speed of your computer.

It’s also context sensitive, using whole spoken phrases to work out the right words (instead of the old method which converted each spoken word individually).

Another improvement is microphones, especially in laptops, which now pick up speech with better fidelity.

Microphone setup

Make sure Windows and Office can ‘hear’ you. 

A microphone in a laptop or webcam should be enough in most cases.  Wireless microphones may work.  If you’re in a noisy area, a headset with mic close to the mouth might be necessary.  Dictate needs to ‘hear’ your voice clearly without distracting background noise. Try using an old smartphone as a microphone if there’s no in-built microphone.

Go to Settings and search for ‘Speech’ and choose Speech Settings.

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Choose a language.  Though this setting has no effect in Office Dictation, it’s probably best to select the right one.

Get Started – click that button to go through a wizard to select, setup and test your microphone. The wizard is intended for using Cortana or Windows 10 voice commands but also serves to get a mic ready for Word.

Dictate in Word has no settings or microphone controls of its own.  It only works with the default microphone in Windows.

Dictate Setup

With a default microphone setup and working try Dictate.  It’s on the Home tab.

Pull down the list and choose your spoken language.  ‘Preview’ languages aren’t fully developed but should work fairly well.

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Does language selection matter for dialects?  Probably, though Peter’s Australian accent worked just as well with the setting on English US, UK, Canada or Australia.

We’d be interested to hear from French speakers about their experience with French (France) vs. French (Canada).  Or Spanish speakers with the Spain or Mexico variants.  Can people from Portugal effectively use the Portuguese (Brazil) option?

Dictation Start

Click the Dictate button, wait a second until the button changes with a red dot.

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Whatever you say now will be heard and turned into text.

Punctuation

Dictate has Automatic punctuation where the following words insert the symbol of that name.

  • Period  or  Full Stop
  • Comma
  • Question mark
  • Exclamation point or Exclamation mark
  • New line  or  New paragraph
  • Semicolon
  • Colon
  • Hyphen
  • Open quote  or  Open quotes
  • Close quote or Close quotes

There are more spoken punctuation phrases and symbols available.

Speaking becomes typing

Dictate seems to work better than the last time we tried it. You can switch between typing and speaking which makes it easier to edit the text and fix any ‘bludners’ as you go along. 

We tried the same test as back in 2017 when Dictate was an add-on to Word. It’s a famous standup routine …

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Compare this with our 2017 test. Dictate works a bit better now but it’s hardly perfect. Punctuation is handled more consistently; the only glitch was that Peter didn’t know that ‘dash’ wasn’t an accepted punctuation word (it’s ‘hyphen’).

“Your mileage may vary” Give Dictate a try to see how well it works for you.  Does the error rate outweigh the convenience of dictating?

Privacy

Microsoft now addresses privacy concerns with this statement.

“This service does not store your audio data or transcribed text.

Your speech utterances will be sent to Microsoft and used only to provide you with text results.”

That’s good, as far as it goes.  Laws in various countries, including the USA, mean Microsoft can be compelled to monitor and handover data from any customer.  That can happen without notice to the customer or even a court warrant.

Troubleshooting

The most common problem with Dictate is the microphone setup. Click the Dictate button, start talking but no typing appears.

Dictate in Word or Outlook has no controls to choose a microphone.  Use Windows to select the microphone.

Right-click on the speaker icon on the status bar and choose Sound | Recording.  Right click on your preferred microphone and choose ‘Set as Default Device’ and ‘Set as Default Communication Device”

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