Dear Lifehacker, I’m a fan of speech-recognition services like Siri, but it seems like half the time it has no idea what I’m trying to say. Is there some sort of trick to make it understand me better? Sincerely, Fluxed with Siri
Used properly, Siri (or Google Now, or any other voice assistant) can be incredibly helpful. The problem is that you need to know how to speak to them, and they rarely come with instruction manuals. In some cases, this is just getting used to what you can say, but you can also improve the chances it will understand you with a few simple tricks. Here’s what you can do.
Speak Quickly Without Long Pauses
Voice assistants aren’t people, so you can’t talk to them like they are. While you can typically use natural language like “show me my calendar for tomorrow” as opposed to something more robotic like “show calendar for October 12, 2013”, you still want to keep your sentences short and to the point. So, quit stalling mid-sentence, asking multiple questions at once, or saying please and thank you.
You also want to speak quickly. It’s a natural tendency to speak to your voice recognition apps in the same way you would a puppy: slow and methodically. But as we’ve pointed out before, it’s actually best to speak quickly. Speak naturally and clearly, but don’t strain to enunciate your words or speak incredibly slowly.
Correct It When it Makes a Mistake
You can also correct some things they get wrong. On Android, you just need to add in an entry for a phonetic name so it pronounces it correctly. Head into Menu > Edit, and scroll down to Add Another Field to choose a phonetic name. With Siri, you have a couple of options for this. You can tap any part of the speech bubble and type a correction so it learns what you’re saying. For improperly spoken names, say “That’s not how you pronounce ‘name'” and then follow the instructions.
Learn All the Correct Commands
Each type of speech recognition software has its own set of commands and the quicker you learn those commands the better it will understand what you want. Once you know what you can ask, you’ll be able to do things a lot quicker.
We’ve shown you a few of these commands. If you’re using an Apple device, this list of Siri commands is plenty to get you started, and this Google Voice list is just a small sample of everything Google Now can do. The trick is learning what you can say to your voice assistant and how to say it. When you get the hang of it, they’re a lot easier to use and they’ll understand you more often.
Get the Hang of Using Punctuation
While communicating with the assistant part of a virtual assistant is tough enough as it is, using the dictation function is even trickier if you don’t know what you’re doing. Thankfully, once you learn a few basic commands it’s pretty easy.
For most dictation software, you only need to know a few different basic commands:
“All caps” turns everything into CAPITAL LETTERS.
“Cap” capitalises the word you speak next.
Get punctuation by just saying it, “comma,” “period,” “exclamation point” all work how you’d expect.
You can also dictate emoticons by just saying things like “smiley” or “winkey” on the iPhone. On Android you can do the same thing, but you need to add “face”, so say “smiley face” or “winkey face”.
It’s a little awkward at first, but your dictation software will soon understand you a lot better.
Use a Mic When You Can
Finally, one of the reasons that your voice assistant of choice might not understand is the simple fact that it might not be hearing you correctly. If you’re in a noisy place, or it’s just not picking up your audio correctly, it’s not going to know what you want it to do. If a mic’s not around, just hold the phone’s mic close to your mouth.
That’s really it. Voice assistants like Siri and Google Now exist on servers so they’re constantly being updated (which is also why you’ll get faster results over Wi-Fi) to work better. Even still, provided you speak clearly and know what to say, they work really well.