Unlocking the Secrets of Dictation Software

Dragon is a software that allows you to dictate your translation while it does the heavy lifting, i.e., typing. In my opinion, if you aren’t utilizing dictation software of some kind, you’re really missing out. I’ve heard from a few people recently that said they had tried it and not liked it, but the more I probed, the more I realized that they just didn’t know how to get the most out of it to actually see productivity results.

First, let’s talk about the benefits:

Lighten your load. First and foremost, it just makes translating easier. Plus, if you put forth less effort to translate the same number of words, in theory, you can translate a few more of them…or just take the afternoon off!

Goodbye hand cramps. I was developing a real case of carpal tunnel and it’s completely gone now because I’m not typing nearly as much. Translation can wreak havoc on our bodies and using dictation software can help protect your body. You can even stand up or walk around if you get a wireless headset.

Focus on the source. If you’re translating a PDF document, you’re usually forced to go back and forth looking at the source then the target, then the source and then target, etc. Dragon virtually eliminates this problem.

Hear your translation. We’ve long heard that reading a translation out loud can help eliminate things that just don’t sound right and with Dragon, this is not a separate step.

Translate faster. I think most people translate much faster with Dragon. It makes lists of phone numbers or lab values and especially dates a breeze. Even on complex medical documents, I am still faster than I was before using Dragon, even though I often do a lot of research.

Use commands to automate your repeated tasks. Even if you have used Dragon before, you may not be aware that Dragon Pro has the added feature of being able to create commands. Commands are similar to macros in Office if you’re familiar with them. If not, basically, any task that you do on a computer can be automated and linked to a voice command. For example, when you receive a job request and you’re all booked up, you could create a voice command, “all booked up” and have it insert an entire template e-mail for you. Or, if you come across text that repeats, you can create a command for it. I once had a patient record and it said something like “Patient 12345-6789, DOB 01/01/2001” which was covering the patient’s redacted name. I linked this text to the voice command “watermelon” knowing that “watermelon” was unlikely to be in this patient’s records and every time I said that word, it inserted that entire string of text for me. It’s also great if you come across brand names or molecule names that seem to have 478 characters…I mean, who has time to spell that every time? Not to mention, you can update your Facebook status, close and open windows and programs and lots more.

Translate consistently and translate better. I call this the “interpreter phenomenon” and I admit that it isn’t scientific—it’s just my experience. However, I find that sight translation and interpretation make me more decisive and make my brain work faster as I translate. Using Dragon is basically like practicing sight translation all of the time, which only makes you more decisive, thereby making you faster and faster.

Multitask. Dragon eliminates the absolute requirement that you must be looking where you are typing. For example, I might use Dragon to type in a search on Google or in a dictionary while I’m reading my source. Or, I might have looked something up and be reading the information I need as I’m dictating my newly found terminology into my translation.

I know you’re sold on dictation software now, but hold off on pressing “buy” before you read the pitfalls:

Tomato: tomayto or tomahto? You need to know how to pronounce words. Think it’s obvious? Well, you might think you know how to pronounce it, but Dragon might not agree with you. Don’t worry, either you or Dragon will learn. You can even train Dragon with new vocabulary it doesn’t know.

Proofread differently. You have to proofread for mistakes that you know you never would have made. I recently had Dragon decide that when I said “NM” I meant “New Mexico.” I didn’t. It was an acronym for an institution. It also wrote March 42 7 when I meant March 4 to 7. You get used to looking for these things the more you use Dragon so don’t let this scare you off.

Heavy program. If you’re using a computer that is on its last leg, it probably won’t be able to handle Dragon, but most decent computers don’t seem to have problems.

No distractions. Yes, that is a pitfall…and an advantage. No listening to music or other sound. I do, however, sometimes manage to listen to music through the headset and it doesn’t seem to affect Dragon.

So, how much can Dragon increase your productivity? Well, that depends. I can say that just by adding Dragon to my own workflow, I’ve increased my speed by about 25% on highly technical jobs and by up to 100% on less technical jobs, including careful proofreading. There’s certainly no doubt that the software is now on my list of absolutely essential tools in my workflow, but don’t forget to proofread carefully.

Note: I am in no way affiliated with Dragon and there are several other dictation software programs available, it just so happens that my experience has been with Dragon.


Author: Jenae Spry

Jenae has been a French > English translator for over 10 years and a productivity and performance coach for freelancers for over 5 years. Jenae launched the Success by Rx blog to help freelancers achieve success.

Posted in Productivity, Technology.


  1. Which version of Dragon do you use? I’ve received a limited-time offer for Dragon 13 Home for $49.99. I’ve never used dictation software before, as it tends to be expensive. Would this package be a good place to start or is there a different version better suited for translators?

    • The version you are talking about doesn’t offer commands (I’m pretty sure). So while it would give you an idea of whether or not it will be useful for you, you won’t get that feature, and in my opinion the commands are a large part of why it’s great for productivity. Unfortunately, that version is around $300. You can also use Windows or Mac dictation to start getting the hang of it. I think that their command features are more difficult to use, so you may still want to invest in Dragon after you use that for a bit. But at least it will get you going. I’m not sure I’d invest in the cheaper version just because you then end up spending $350 instead of just the initial $300. I’d use the free stuff first and then decide whether it’s worth the investment for you.

      • Very valid points. Also, I didn’t know about the free Windows dictation. I’ll check it out just to familiarize myself a bit more with dictation software. Thank you for the helpful reply and the great post.

  2. Candice, the best version for professional translators which also includes the custom commands is the new “Professional Individual” version which only just came out in the last year or so. It’s much cheaper than the other professional version but still offers the same functions.

    Anyway, great post, although I don’t find that Dragon improves my productivity/speed that much. But I am a very fast translator and I type fast. Nevertheless, Dragon is great for three things in my case:

    1) It’s great for avoiding repetitive strain injuries. When my wrists and hands start to ache, I switch to dictation for a bit and it has definitely eased those occupational pains.

    2) I find it really useful for translations that require more “flow”. Most of my work is highly technical, and my natural writing “style” is not generally that elegant, but I find that dictation improves this, so I like to use Dragon for company newsletter articles and the like, where a more conversational flow is expected, or for marketing material where the language needs to be more on the mark, stylistically speaking.

    3) Having dictation as an option is a great backup plan. I rest easy knowing that if I have an accident or get injured in a way that makes computer work or typing almost impossible, I can fall back on dictation and still pay my bills.

    • Thank you for pointing me in the right direction, Angela. I appreciate the useful feedback. I will check out the “Professional Individual” version.

    • Yes, the Professional Individual version is the most recent pro version and includes commands. You can actually click on the link underneath the picture at the top to go to Nuance’s site and view that product. It’s currently priced at $300.

  3. This might be a dumb question, but a very important consideration just occurred to me: Will this software work for languages other than English? I translate mostly from EN>SP, so I would be needing it mainly for Spanish dictation.

    • Since it just came out, I’m not sure. I know that the pro version I had before I upgraded could be purchased for something like 13 different languages (including Spanish) but it wouldn’t hurt to contact them directly to be sure you’re getting a Spanish-supported version before you spend the money.

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  5. Hello,
    I would like to download the Dragon Dictation Software for free but cannot find a decent page which offers it.
    Any help would be much appreciated.

    • Hi Natalia

      Dragon is not available for free as far as I know. It’s a paid professional software program. The version I use that offers commands is $300.

  6. I agree completely. It has make my work much more comfortable, and like you say, you can choose your selve, if you take a half day of or raise your productivity. But what you say about reviewing your translation is the most important part: you need to review your work on a complete different way, and depending on the kind of the text, dictating can be less convenient, especially if you work with Trados, like I wrote in my blog: https://epvertalingen.eu/de/dragon-naturallyspeaking-and-cat-tools

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