Friday, June 17, 2011

Dragon Dictate and Wordfast in Word 2011 on Mac

Last week, I purchased a MacBook Pro with an SSD drive and eight GB of RAM. In the work that I do, I require special Translation Memory software, and I choose to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking on my Windows machines instead of typing.

I wanted to comment in some detail on the performance of this set up just in case anyone else is thinking of going the same route.

To cut to the chase, Dragon Dictate only works properly on a Mac within the software’s own Note Pad. If you are coming from Dragon NaturallySpeaking on Windows, you are in for a terrible disappointment, and if you would like to use Dragon Dictate in a wide range of programs – from browsers to Microsoft Word – you are likely to regret this purchase.

In the reviews of Dragon Dictate for Mac online (such as at, there are some mentions about how slow the program is within Word. The Translation Memory software I choose to use is Wordfast Classic, which runs as a set of VBA commands within Word – in other words, I need to use Dragon Dictate on a Mac the way I use it on Windows: to dictate what I say, not to navigate around my computer. In particular, the Translation Memory software has a whole array of keyboard shortcuts to speed up work.

It turns out that there is a “golden rule” for Dragon Dictate on Macs that I have never encountered for Dragon NaturallySpeaking on Windows – you cannot use the keyboard at all at any point during the dictation session. Since I am fortunately not handicapped, I do not need Dragon to navigate around my computer; I simply use it so I do not have to type in what I am saying. Dragon has allowed me, since 2005, to look at a text in one language and speak it aloud in English – et voilĂ , when I looked down, the text was already typed there for me with 99% accuracy.

This simply does not work with my particular configuration now. Dragon Dictate has all sorts of glitches on Mac OS. Like its predecessor, MacSpeech, Dragon Dictate leaves leading spaces all over the place every time you move the cursor by hand. On various user forums, you will learn that the command “purge cache” can be used to stop that from happening. Basically, the program tries to remember everything in the text you are working on so that if you want to correct something somewhere, it will know where to go to. If you ask the program to purge (erase) the cache, it will assume there is no text and start from scratch. At least, that’s what the manual says.

In practice, the purge-cache command only gets rid of the space. The first word you say will be capitalized, so if you don’t want that word capitalized, have fun trying to tell the computer that.

In fact, the situation is even worse, as the manual itself says – take a look at this screenshot:

Essentially, this blurb means that you are still screwed every now and then even if you do not use your keyboard while dictating.

All of this would be completely unnecessary if Dragon Dictate had a mode that allowed you to completely do without all of these commands and just have the program dictate exactly what you say. If you want a capitalized word, you will have to say “cap,” and if you want a leading space, you will have to say “space.” Then, if you don’t say either thing, you get no space and a lowercase word. That would be a lot more convenient than what the program does now.

If you would like to see how terrible all of this is, visit my video here (give the video about 20 seconds to start showing something; for some reason, it's gray for the first 20 seconds after I uploaded it):

If any translators would like to comment,  I'd love to hear what you have to say, especially if I am getting some things wrong here.


  1. Hi (already commented on your YouTube channel).

    - "Purge cash": I assume you mean "purge cache" (= clear computer memory); purging cash is what happens when you enter an Apple Store!

    - As a fairly recent switcher to the Mac (about 2 years), I notice that there are certain "blank spots": financial, home-banking and now it seems also dictation software.

    Thanks for doing the test for the rest of us! I'd be interested to hear whether you can use Dragon (Mac) together with Wordfast (Win) on your Mac.

    Best regards,
    Eugen Klaussner ("The Wordsmith" - tech. translations de>en)

  2. "Purge cash" indeed!

    Heise (c't magazine) told me recently (I have business contacts with them) that the upcoming Lion OS might include some interesting changes pertaining to speech recognition. As you may know, Dragon is already available as an app, and users seem to be relatively satisfied with it. And Lion OS is expected to make Apple computers feel a bit more like the firm's mobile devices (iPad and iPhone).

    Wordfast has also come out with a new version of its software, which it says is faster on Macs, so my review above may possibly be outdated in just a week or so.

  3. Thanks for the extremely helpful review. I am a Swedish/Norwegian/Danish to English translator and I use Wordfast Classic and Pro with Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.x on a PC. I had been considering moving to a Mac, but it sounds as if Dragon Dictate's "golden rule" would seriously interfere with my work. By the way, I find that DNS works faster with WF Pro than with WF Classic + Word. I just dictate in DNS and type WF shortcuts to navigate.