How to Set Up Dictation & Voice Commands in OS X El Capitan

By Bob LeVitus

Speech recognition is a powerful tool that’s built into OS X El Capitan. It’s both convenient when you have your hands full and freeing when you want your mind open. El Capitan offers two flavors of speech recognition. Dictation converts your spoken words into text in most applications; Dictation Commands let you use your voice to control your Mac.

To start using Dictation and Dictation Commands on your Mac, launch System Preferences and follow these steps:

  1. Open the Dictation & Speech System Preferences pane.

  2. Click the Dictation tab.

  3. Click the On button for Dictation.

  4. (Optional) Click the Use Enhanced Dictation check box.

    If you don’t enable Use Enhanced Dictation, you can only use Dictation if your Mac has an Internet connection; enable this option to use Dictation without an Internet connection.

  5. (Optional) Choose the microphone you want to use from the Microphone pop-up menu.

    The Microphone pop-up menu is beneath the microphone icon on the left. If your Mac has a built-in microphone, click where it says “Internal Microphone.”

    For what it’s worth, you will probably get better results from just about any third-party microphone. The Mac’s built-in mic works, but almost any third-party microphone will be better for speech recognition.

  6. (Optional) Change the shortcut to turn Dictation on and off.

    By default, the shortcut is to press the Fn (Function) key twice. To change it, click the Shortcut menu and select a different shortcut.

And that’s all there is to setting up Dictation in El Capitan. When you want to talk to your Mac, just invoke the shortcut to start talking. If you’re using a program that accepts text input, your words will appear on the screen almost immediately after you say them.

If you’re interested in knowing what commands work with your Mac, press your Dictation shortcut key to turn Dictation on, and then say, “Show Commands.” A mini-window with all the commands your Mac understands appears; scroll through the list to see every spoken command your Mac will recognize.