How to Start Dictation by Voice Command in Mac OS X

Oct 28, 2015 - 38 Comments

Starting Dictation by Voice Command in Mac OS X

The Dictation feature of OS X has let Mac users speak to their computers and have the speech converted accurately into text for quite some time, and now with the newest versions of OS X you can improve Dictation even further by starting the speech to text conversion with a voice command.

You can think of this as a Mac specific speech to text version of “Hey Siri” on the iPhone, except that you issue a voice command to start the Dictation speech translations rather than making requests through a virtual assistant. It works quite well, we’ll show you how to enable the feature, and how to activate it by voice.

You’ll need OS X 10.11 or later to have this option on the Mac.

Enabling Voice Activated Dictation on Mac OS X

  1. Open System Preferences from the  Apple menu and go to “Dictation & Speech”
  2. Choose to enable Dictation by turning the feature on, then check the box or “Use Enhanced Dictation” then return to the system preference panel screen
  3. Enable Dictation and Enhanced Dictation in OS X

  4. Now go to “Accessibility” and scroll through the left menu to “Dictation”
  5. Click on “Dictation Commands” button, then check to “Enable advanced commands” in the options
  6. Back at the Dictation accessibility panel, check the box next to “Enable the dictation keyword phrase” and enter a phrase to have the Mac listen for and identify to start dictation, using something obvious but unique to the experience like “Hey Mac” or “Initiate Dictation” is probably a good idea
  7. Optional but recommended, enable “Play sound when command is recognized” to give an auditory signal that dictation is ready, and also “Mute audio output while dictating” to avoid any on computer sound or audio from interfering
  8. Enable Dictation by voice command in Mac OS X

Now that both Dictation and voice activated Dictation are enabled, you can test it out just about anywhere that allows for text input, including any text editor, word processor, text input form, Spotlight, web inputs in Safari and Chrome, and more.

Initiating Dictation by Voice Command on the Mac

  1. Place the Mac cursor in a text input region on screen, then use the voice command you set in the prior step, for example “Hey Mac”
  2. Start using Dictation as usual after you hear the chime recognition sound. Stop speaking to finish

Starting Dictation by Voice Command in Mac OS X

Very easy, and once Dictation is activated, all dictation commands work, including punctuation and line breaks.

Whether or not this is preferable or any easier than issuing a key sequence to start Dictation as you typically would in OS X depends on a variety of things, but for many users it’s great to be able to just start talking and, assuming the Mac has a text editor open, have it start recording what they’re saying, without having to interact much with the keyboard or mouse. I

By the way, as you may have noticed when enabling Enhanced Dictation, the feature also allows for offline usage which is quite handy, since the speech to text translation is handled entirely on the Mac without sending the requests to Apple servers for translation.

This is one of those features which is useful enough that you hope it spreads to the iOS platform as well, since surely many iPhone and iPad users would appreciate the same ability to start dictation with a simple voice command sequence.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Jim Clifton says:

    I don’t think it gets installed by default with every Sierra install. It didn’t for me. Doing “Sys Prefs… Keyboard… Dictation…” Dictation Off causes “Sys Prefs… Accessibility” to have options greyed out. Going back to “Sys Prefs… Keyboard.. Dictation…” and turning Dictation to On starts a ~3 min download (YMMV). Once that’s done, “Hey Siri” works. Assumes “Sys Prefs… Accessibility…” dictation keyword phrase = “Hey” and Dictation commands… “when I say ‘Siri’ while using any application, open”. (If you don’t have it set up, once in “Sys Prefs… Accessibility… Dictation Commands…, hit the ‘+’ and create it.

  2. yaa says:

    I have enabled Dictation but the Dictation commands button is greyed out for me.

    What to do?

  3. Dea. Will says:

    After following the steps that are listed you then have to speak your key phrase word that you setup, followed by saying the command start dictation. Then the Mac will automatically start dictating.

  4. mcgreig says:

    Thank you SomeMacDude! That was where I was going wrong – I was using the keyword phrase without following it with a command.

  5. Lance Corvette says:

    Enabling this with “enhanced dictation” automatically starts a 1.5Gb download that I cannot now stop.

    Yet another software fail.

  6. Eric says:

    Try this: When you’re in Dictation under Accessability-click the “Dictation Commands” button, then check “enable advanced commands” in the box that pops up, then click done, and THEN your Mac will respond to your voice. I too could not get it to work until I checked this option. I think this detail was left out of the instructions!

  7. SomeMacDude says:

    Saying the keyword without a command doesn’t do anything. To issue a command you’ll need to say the keyword followed by the command, such as “Computer, Switch to Mail.” To enter dictation mode so you can dictate you can say “Computer, Start dictating” and then to end dictation mode you can say “Stop Dictating.”

  8. Dave says:

    Dictation / voice commands is a great feature, right up until it bankrupts your memory. ever since ( tabby? Persian? 10.something OS X ), if you leave voice commands up, and use voice commands to do something on the Mac, it begins chewing up memory, until you run out. It can take a few days if you stay up all the time. When you run out of available memory, the computer won’t wake from sleep.

    I wish Apple would fix it, as the feature is very nice.

    • carson says:

      Interesting I have not experienced this, are you leaving the voice to text feature on 24/7 to experience that? To record everything in a room into text?

  9. Tony says:

    Does not work for me, accessibility tick boxes are greyed out.

  10. Steve says:

    How do you get a line break?
    (fn) twice starts it just fine

  11. Ben says:

    Doesn’t work for me.

  12. Randall King says:

    Doesn’t work for me either.

  13. DaveHo says:

    I found that “Start dictation” works, but I have to say it twice to get it started. Is there any way to tell it to “Stop dictation”? If so, I could keep my hands on my coffee cup to stay warm while talking to the machine all morning!

  14. Ron7624 says:

    not working for me either, I though a reboot might help but it didn’t. Actually pressing the fn key twice is not that much work ;)
    After initiating using the keyboard I find it surprisingly accurate. More so than Seri

  15. John Lange says:

    I followed your instructions to a “T” but it didn’t initiate anything for me except to make me look stupid while I sat here yelling at my computer.

  16. Ken says:

    Right after I get up in the morning and initiate my day by initiating the coffee machine, and before I initiate my car to initiate my workday, I will initiate the dictation software by setting it for “initiate dictation.” Then any time I initiate writing a document, or initiate writing an email, I can initiate dictation by saying initiate dictation.

    I think this “initiate” business is pretentious stuffy crap, but that’s probably just because I’m not an android, and I speak modern English, not modern Geek. I think it would be better to set it to start (not initiate) when I say “Mac, take a letter.”

  17. jbob says:

    Seems to work for me with the exception of the required keyword phrase.

    If I choose “listen without requiring keyword phrase” it seems to work OK. Except it prints the word for the punctuation mark instead of the actual mark. But this was just an initial test. I’m sure there are commands someplace that will help me with that.

    • jbob says:

      Replying to my own post! If I pressed the function key twice it brought up the microphone and would listen and type without using the keyword.

      This time it printed the question mark for one dictation but printed the word period for another dictation.

  18. John says:

    Doesnt work for me.

  19. Sarcasticon says:

    Followed all the steps. Doesn’t work.

    • Crasson says:

      Works for me. Talking to the computer. Must be user error over on your end. Need to enable the enhanced Dictation. Maybe you watched the GOP debate instead.

      • Sarcasticon says:

        Wow. I must be stupid. And, you must be a jackrabbit

      • Sarcasticon says:

        Do the words “followed all the steps” mean nothing to you? You must be a Hillary supporter. Benghazi was about a YouTube video.

        • Benjie Carson says:

          I can tell you’re a republican because you’re operating in a false reality where you think facts and rules don’t apply to you and your Mac. You need to enable Enhanced Dictation, if you don’t enable Enhanced Dictation then you can’t talk to your Macintosh computer.

          Can I borrow your banjo? Are you going to the Jeb rally?! Jeb uses an Apple Watch!

          • Marc Hill says:

            Americans never cease to amaze me of your ability to change the discussion of practically anything to your angry political system. Seriously we could be talking about oranges and I can guarantee one of you could turn it into a political argument.

  20. Tokyoguru says:

    doesn’t work for me either

  21. philrodo says:

    Can’t get this to work. Voice dictation works, but I have to double click the fn button on the keyboard.

  22. Duncan Down Under says:

    Neat. I never knew that.

  23. FarmerBob says:

    I remember when you could talk to your Mac and it would do things, including answer you back. My niece would have conversations with it.

    But then I also remember Pterodactyls.

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