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Dragon Naturally Speaking software

How Dragon Naturally Speaking software can hugely improve your life as a German translator!

Dragon Naturally Speaking software has turned my life as a German translator upside down – but not for the reason you may think.

Yes, it probably helps you translate faster, and more efficiently. My needs were different, however, and I suspect I might not be alone.....

As a forty-something, I recently realised that I’ve spent almost half of my life in front of a computer screen, tapping away at a keyboard and clicking a mouse.

So far, no problems – I’m healthy, had a very sporty youth, do a fair amount of daily activity and lead a busy family life.

Then last summer I suddenly noticed that it was painful to lift weights or twist anything using my right arm. I was on holiday and assumed I’d wrenched my arm without really noticing.

The pain came and went for the next six months, whilst I typed with gritted teeth, and I assumed things would gradually get better.

But after playing table tennis with my daughter one afternoon and then spending the evening in agony, I realised that whatever-it-was wasn’t just going to go away.

Dragon Naturally Speaking softwareTyping was horribly painful...

The official diagnosis was tennis elbow and inflamed ligaments, and I've gone through the usual process of time-consuming physiotherapy, stretching, supporting armbands, etc.

The physiotherapists all smile understandingly and say yes, too much time spent in front of a computer, clicking that mouse.

Yes, OK, but what's the solution?!

Well, first I moved the mouse over to my left to reduce the strain on my right arm, and was pretty pleased at how quickly I became "ambidextrous".

(I really recommend you try this. My problems have since diminished hugely and I'm sure its a combination of reducing repetitive actions and generally keeping physically strong.)

Then I started some online research to see if I was alone with this problem. I wasn’t. And I realised speech to text software might be the solution.

Speech to text software – the solution?

I trawled the major translator directory forums to find recommendations and reviews about speech to text software and voice recognition dictation software.

It was quickly clear that one brand was more popular with the translator community than anything else.......

....Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Looks like my elbow problems had come at around the right time. Dragon Naturally Speaking is now up to version 13, but when my problems first started version 11 had just been released.

According to comments in the translator forums, it seemed the software had become sufficiently advanced and nuanced that speech to text software was now a real help in translation.

So I ordered Dragon Naturally Speaking Home Version 11, which wasn't nearly as expensive as I'd feared, and waited with baited breath.

Here are my impressions after having used it for 3 months:

What I liked about Dragon Naturally Speaking


Quick and easy. I had to read a few passages of text – 5 or 10 minutes in all, for it to generate my voice profile, and it also read through the documents and emails on my computer to analyse my typical vocabulary.

I was impressed by the speed at which it seemed to feel happy with the way I speak, and on the whole I was very impressed with its accuracy.


It has a clever application which allows you to train the pronunciation of particular words which may not be in its vocabulary. And you really can speak quite fast indeed without it having any problems in understanding you. (I wrote this article using Dragon!)

Easy to use:

I do get very impatient with software - I just want to install it and go. I tend to ignore complicated instructions.

So I'm delighted to report that the Dragon Naturally Speaking software is quick to get the hang of, although there must be a considerable number of shortcuts I've not yet discovered.

The basics are simple – just say what you want. For example, to write this....

"I'm pretty sure anyone could use it!"

.....just involved saying "new line open quote I'm pretty sure anyone could use it exclamation mark close quote".

Areas for improvement?


As some reader comments had highlighted, the headphones that came with the Dragon Naturally Speaking software installation CD failed to recognise my voice. Swapping headphones for a set with a USB port immediately solved the problem. (Remember, that was version 11, and it's now at Version 13.)


The software is monolingual and wasn’t primarily designed with translators in mind. So  as a German translator, if I want to use an online dictionary I still have to manually input any German term I want to look up.

So speech to text software isn't a way of getting rid of the keyboard entirely.

A bilingual software combination, in which one could hop between languages, would be nice (if the Dragon software developers are listening!).


Much discussion about the software in the translator forums is centred around whether it really helps to boost output, i.e. can a translator do more work in less time.

There was doubt that it really did speed up work that much - but this was not my primary reason for purchasing it.

Word recognition:

As with any translation, it's all about context, context, context!

And the challenge for Dragon Naturally Speaking is the English love of homophones.

For example, I recently translated "Herd of Wild Boar Fleeing into a Wood", but my Dragon Naturally Speaking software gave me "heard of wild bore fleeing into a would".

Fair enough, there wasn't much context for the software to work with. And with such a high concentration of misspelt words, it was easy for me to pick them up.

The danger really lies in longer passages of text which get interspersed with the occasional no/know, there/their, to/too/two, as well as sure/shore and seen/scene etc. which are trickier to find during the final read through.

I know the software developers are aware of this, and are busy focusing their efforts on eliminating just such problems.

Dictation speed:

Dragon’s instructions invite you to speak as fast as you wish and preferably in whole sentences - easy if you’re dictating an informal email.

But when I translate, I often need to attack some of my German sentences in sections, and mentally rearrange them before putting them in writing – which means I speak in shorter bursts, making it harder for my Dragon Naturally Speaking software to recognise context. This creates greater chance of error.

I also suspect a touch of prudery on the behalf of the software developers which meant it was difficult to translate the German Kohlmeise (Great Tit), with the software refusing to spell the second word correctly.

Naturally my kids have tried out other options, and are somewhat disappointed that it doesn’t seem to recognise many naughty words!

My overall verdict for Dragon Naturally Speaking

I used version 11 of  Dragon Naturally Speaking to translate a German book into English (all about renewable energy – fascinating and very timely).

At around 70,000 words / 250 pages, that’s was a lot of typing. My speech to text software dramatically reduced the demands on my right hand and I don’t think I could have done it otherwise.

I use Dragon Naturally Speaking software to do the “first run” of the translation; with my head down in the German original, occasionally glancing up to check that it's actually transcribing what I intend to say, and in the right place.

Going over translated passages and rewording/reorganising sections is also fast. But I would recommend turning the speech to text software off for the final read through, if only to avoid the occasional "up" and "are" which seem to get scattered all over the text when I hiccup, cough or tut!

I haven't calculated the time savings in a scientific manner, but my distinct impression is that, all in all, I need less time physically getting the English translation onto paper and so have more time to spend thinking about it.

Result - better and faster German translations.

In summary, I wouldn’t be without it. A thoroughly worthwhile piece of software for every translator's armoury. For full-time or occasional use, and with or without your mouse.

Have you tried any speech to text software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking software?

If so, I'd love to hear how you got on and what you think of it.


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