Command Your Mac with Mountain Lion's Speech Recognition - dummies

Command Your Mac with Mountain Lion’s Speech Recognition

Speech Recognition in OS X Mountain Lion enables your Mac to recognize and respond to human speech. The only thing you need to use it is a microphone, and all laptops and iMacs have a built-in mic these days, as does the Apple LED Cinema Display that you can (optionally) purchase for use with any (Mountain Lion-capable) Mac.

Speech Recognition lets you issue verbal commands such as “Get my mail!” to your Mac and have it actually get your e-mail. 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.

Set up your Mac for Speech Recognition

To start using Speech Recognition, launch System Preferences and follow these steps:

  1. Open the Accessibility System Preferences pane.

  2. Click Speakable Items in list on the left and then click the Settings tab.

  3. Click the On button for Speakable Items.


  4. Choose the microphone you want to use from the Microphone pop-up menu.

    If you have a laptop or an iMac, you may get better results from just about any third-party microphone. The one that’s built into your Mac works, but it isn’t the greatest microphone on the planet.

  5. To test that microphone, click the Calibrate button, and follow the on-screen instructions.

    There are two ways — called listening methods — you can use with Speech Recognition. The first listening method is to press a listening key — Esc by default — when you want to talk to your Mac. The second listening method is to have your Mac listen continuously for you to say a special keyword — “Computer” by default — when you want to talk to your Mac.

  6. (Optional) To change the listening key from Esc to a different key, click the Change Key button and press the key you want to use as your listening key.

  7. (Optional) To change the listening method from Listening Key to Listening Continuously with Keyword, click the appropriate radio button.

    If you select Listening Continuously, you have two more options:

    1. To change the way your Mac listens for the keyword — Optional before commands, Required before each command, or Required 15 or 30 seconds after last command — make your selection from the Keyword Is pop-up menu.

    2. To change the keyword from Computer to something else, type the word you want to use in the Keyword field.

  8. (Optional) You can have your commands acknowledged by your Mac, if you like, by selecting the Speak Command Acknowledgement check box.

  9. (Optional) You can choose a sound other than Whit from the Play This Sound pop-up menu.

  10. Click the Commands subtab on the Speech System Preferences pane’s Speech Recognition tab, and then select the check box for each command set you want to enable.

  11. Click the Helpful Tips button and read the tips.

  12. Click each command-set name, and if the Configure button is enabled, click it and follow the on-screen instructions.

  13. If you create an AppleScript you want to be speakable, click the Open Speakable Items Folder.

    The Speakable Items folder is opened for you.

  14. Place the script in the folder.

    When you speak its name, the script is executed.

    If the Speech System Preferences pane isn’t open, and you want to open the Speakable Items folder, you can find it in your Home/Library/Speech folder.

  15. Close the Speech System Preferences pane when you’re done.

How to use Speech Recognition

When Speech Recognition is turned on, a round feedback window appears on-screen.


The word Esc appears in the middle of the window to remind you which key to press before you speak a command.

Now, here’s how to actually use Speech Recognition:

  1. To see what commands are available, click the little triangle at the bottom of the feedback window, and select Open Speech Commands Window.

    As you might expect, selecting Speech Preferences from this menu opens the Speech System Preferences pane for you.

    The Speech Commands window appears on-screen.


  2. Peruse the Speech Commands window to find a command you’d like to execute by speaking its name.

  3. Speak that command exactly as written.

    In this example, press the Esc key and say to your Mac, “Tell me a joke.” At this point, several things happen:

    • In the feedback window, Esc disappears, and the microphone lights up to subtly indicate that your Mac is waiting for speech input.

    • The command and your Mac’s response appear in little boxes above and below the Feedback window.

    • The Speech Commands window changes to reflect the command you’ve spoken.

    Your Mac then says, “Knock, knock,” and the bottom part of the Speech Commands window displays the commands you can speak in response.

    You can see all this here. And that’s pretty much it for Speech Recognition.


This technology is clever and kind of fun, but it can also be somewhat frustrating when it doesn’t recognize what you say. And it requires a decent microphone — although the mic built into most Macs sometimes works okay.