Improving Speech Recognition in Access 2003

It wasn't long ago that talking to your computer marked you as a disturbed person or a Trekkie — or both. Perceptions have changed. All the Office suite programs, including Access 2003, has the Lernout & Hauspie (L & H) speech recognition engine built-in. That means that you can pretty much tell Access 2003 what to do and have a reasonable expectation that it won't talk back.

Most people find speech recognition in Access to be of limited usefulness unless their database contains a lot of lengthy text fields where dictation may come in handy. Yet, if you're among the many thousands who have trouble using keyboards, voice recognition may well be a savior.

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Speech recognition is an amazing technology. The computer "listens" to what you say by breaking electronic signals from a microphone into individual tokens and then combining those tokens into words based on a predefined vocabulary that the software understands. (So, if you said "gastroenterologist," the software would likely be confused unless you had previously bought and installed a medical vocabulary.) However, it gets even more complicated than that.

Consider the phrase "To be or not to be." For the computer to understand what you're saying, it has to discern among several possibilities for each word. For example, is the first word "to," "too," or "two"? They all sound alike. The second word might be "be" or "bee" and the third could be "or" or "ore." So, the computer has to apply some grammatical rules to discern among "to," "too," and "two."

Further complicating the process of speech recognition is the fact that we all talk differently and we may be in a noisy environment. Accurate speech recognition is nothing short of a miracle and yet is far from perfect. All that said, people with repetitive strain injuries or other handicaps may find speech recognition a boon.

The following are some tips on increasing speech recognition accuracy in Access 2003. For more tips, consult the Help file and also check out the Microsoft Office Web site by clicking Office on the Web on the Access Help menu.

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  • Work in a quiet environment. If you work in a noisy office, Access tries to detect what everyone else around you is saying.

  • Use a high-quality microphone. Make sure it provides signal boost and that it's unidirectional ("listens" in only one direction).

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  • Wear the headset and microphone in the same position each time you dictate. Make sure the microphone is about an inch from your lips but not right in front of your lips (it's best if the microphone is just below or to the side of your mouth).

  • Use a high quality sound card. If you detect hissing through your headset, so does Access. Try moving the sound card as far away from the power supply as possible.

  • Speak in phrases rather than pausing between words. Enunciate clearly.

  • Turn off the microphone when you're not dictating.

  • Train your computer by reading prepared texts in the training wizard.

  • Add new words to the dictionary by choosing Tools, Add/Delete words. Type the new word, and then pronounce it.

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