Dragon NaturallySpeaking: Twice the Product, Half the Effort

Dragon Naturally Speaking is gaining ground in the translation industry. I attended a session on Dragon given by Tom Fennell and Andrew Levine at the last ATA conference in October, which really made me realize how much I am under-utilizing the program. Then in December, Mario Chávez reviewed Dragon in the ATA Chronicle from the perspective of medical translation and handling PDF documents. After recently editing a few documents obviously done with dictation software, I started pondering how this tool fits into a translator’s workflow and how it is best used to increase productivity while avoiding the pitfalls.

I’ve noticed more and more translators using Dragon when I edit. Keep in mind that this fact should not be obvious to an editor or a reader. This tool is relatively new to the industry and I think many translators aren’t used to proofreading texts produced by Dragon and so they miss things like “March to” instead of “March 2” because their brains simply don’t expect it to be there.

Don’t run away yet. Dragon is definitely a wonderful addition to your toolkit…IF you think faster than you can type, as was mentioned in the ATA conference presentation. With that said, I know a lot of people who think that they are such speed-demons on a keyboard, Dragon is useless for them, but Dragon does more than just accelerate typing.

The advantages:

  • 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!
  • 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. This was also mentioned in the ATA chronicle review of the software.
  • 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.
  • Work faster. It’s quite easy to set up automatic shortcuts with Dragon so, for example, when you receive a job request and you’re all booked up, you can say “all booked up” and have it write an entire e-mail for you just as if you had created a shortcut to insert a paragraph at the push of a button. Not to mention, you can update your Facebook status, close and open windows and programs and lots more.
  • Translate consistently and translate better. The more I use Dragon, the faster my brain seems to be able to translate and remember previous translations accurately. That may sound questionable, and maybe it is. I can only speak from my own experience. I’ve certainly at least noticed that increasing my translation speed and saying my translations out loud has resulted in fewer instances of having to go back and see how certain terms and phrases were handled.
  • 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.

The pitfalls:

  • Tomato: tomayto or tomahto? You need to know how to pronounce what you’re typing. 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.
  • Proofread differently. You have to proofread for mistakes that you know that 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.
  • 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. However, I do sometimes manage to listen to music through the headset and it doesn’t seem to affect Dragon.

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 but remember, don’t be afraid to test yourself and Dragon and you might be surprised, but in the end, 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.

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  1. Hello,

    Thank you very much for this post.
    I was wondering if Dragon works in another language except English because I translated into Portuguese.

    • Yes, it works for multiple languages but not all versions of Dragon are available in all languages (I’m not sure which versions are available for Portuguese). You’d have to contact them directly to be sure. Personally, I think if the version doesn’t have the option to add custom commands, you’re wasting your money. You can also test out your computer’s voice recognition (Mac and Windows both have it built in) but it may be less accurate from what I hear.

  2. Whenever I see Dragon mentioned I just assume it’s not for me, as I speak a language with only 6 million native speakers – but is that true? I would love to test it though, in order to increase productivity.

    • I think you’d have to talk to Dragon directly to find out what your options are. For example, if your operating system were in English, you could use Dragon to automate your workflow using English commands. Alternatively, both Windows and Mac have built in options with more languages…but I understand that they are less accurate and require more work to build commands if you’re not that great at coding. I haven’t used them though so this is all what I have heard.

  3. I’m looking forward to the upcoming training on DNS, as I’ve dabbled with it years ago when it was installed at work, really liked it, not had it installed since, but really think I’d enjoy using it with Wordfast, especially as I’m a conference interpreter by training as well.

    But seriously, you can listen to music, process a written text and dictate to Dragon at the same time?! You better donate your brain to science, that is amazingly prodigious!!

    • I hope you enjoyed the webinar! I think it comes from being an extrovert, but I really like having some noise around me. Way back when, I used to keep the TV on in the background to have “company” at home. 🙂 Now, when the text is extremely complex, I can’t do that…nor can I do it for proofreading.

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