Commanding Your Mac by Voice with macOS Sierra

By Bob LeVitus

Speech Recognition enables your Mac to recognize and respond to human speech. The only thing you need to use it is a microphone, which most of you have built right into your Mac (unless it’s a Mac Mini or Mac Pro as noted previously).

Speech Recognition lets you issue verbal commands such as “Get my mail!” to your Mac and have it actually get your email. You can also create AppleScripts and trigger them by voice.

An AppleScript is a series of commands, using the AppleScript language, that tells the computer (and some applications) what to do.

In versions of macOS before Yosemite, you had to explicitly turn on Speech Recognition; in Sierra, if you’ve enabled Dictation, you can use speech commands to instruct your Mac.

To see a list of commands your Mac will understand if you speak them, open the Keyboard System Preferences pane, click the Dictation tab, and enable Enhanced Dictation. Now, open the Accessibility System Preferences pane, click Dictation in the list on the left, and then click the Dictation Commands button. A sheet appears, in which you can enable or disable the available dictation commands.

If you have a laptop or an iMac, you may get better results from just about any third-party microphone or headset with a microphone. The mic built into your Mac works okay, but it’s not great.

To select a third-party microphone, first connect the mic to your Mac. Then open the Sound System Preferences pane and select it from the list of sound input devices in the Input tab. Below the list is an input volume control (not available with some third-party mics) and a level meter. Adjust the Input Volume so that most of the dots in the Input Level meter darken.

This is a good level for Speech Recognition.

Speech Recognition is the same as Dictation; enable Dictation and you’re good to go. To give it a try, press Fn twice (or whatever shortcut you set earlier) and speak one of the items from the list of Dictation Commands, such as “Open TextEdit.” If the command is recognized, it will appear in text above the microphone icon.

Open TextEdit above the mic icon means your command was recognized.

This technology is clever and kind of fun, but it can also be somewhat frustrating when it doesn’t recognize what you say, which is far too often, if you ask me. And it requires a decent microphone even though the mic built into most Macs works okay. Still, it’s kind of cool (and it’s a freebie).