Assistive Technology Center at College of San Mateo - Let People Hear Your Inner Smile
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Assistive Technology Services
Let People Hear Your Inner Smile
By Dan Newman

With some simple measures you can prevent vocal strain. Radio announcers and disc jockeys depend on their voices for their livelihood. Using speech recognition, you're also depending on your voice. Like an athlete stretching before a run, you can take preventative measures to prevent voice strain and maintain good vocal health. Follow these guidelines:
  • Speak in a relaxed manner, approximating pur normal flow of speech.
  • Use pitch and inflection. There's no need to speak in a monotone. You'll put much more energy into your voice this way, which is healthier for you.
  • Speaking well has an open feeling to it, like the feeling inside right before a yawn. This open sense, which has been described as an "inner smile," makes for sound, comfortable speaking.
  • Breathe with the diaphragm, rather than in the chest, supporting your voice.
Here's an exercise to notice your breathing. Put your hand on your belly. If you're breathing through your diaphragm, your hand will rise (your belly will expand) as you inhale. As you exhale, your hand will fall. Breath- ing this way may take some practice, but it's well worth getting into the habit.

If you're breathing from the chest, your chest will rise and fall instead of your belly.

Vary Your Gestures and Posture

If you typically make hand gestures as you speak to other people in person, go ahead and make those gestures at the computer. Your voice will have more energy, and speaking will be more relaxed and comfortable.

Also, vary your posture. Don't just sit and dictate-stand up at your computer, or pace around (as your microphone cord allows). Headsets on long cords and wireless headsets and microphones can give you even more pacing room. One of the benefits of speech recognition is that you're not stuck in a frozen, rigid posture at the keyboard.

Take Care of Yourself

There are a number of other uncommonly followed, common-sense ways to take care of yourself when dictating:
  • Ease into it. Start talking to your computer for 30 minutes a day, gradually increasing to several hours a day over the course of 2 to 3 weeks. This gives your body the opportunity to adapt gradually to speaking to the computer.
  • When dictating, take frequent breaks-at least 10 minutes each hour is best. This is excellent advice for typing as well. To keep healthy, you need to move and stimulate your blood circulation.
  • Don't dictate for eight hours straight. If you can, vary your work-perhaps two hours of dictation in the morning, then two in the afternoon, with paperwork, phone calls, and typing in the middle.
  • Avoid dictating when you're tired This strains your voice and makes it difficult to get good recognition.

Take Care of Your Vocal Folds

As you speak, your vocal folds (more commonly called vocal chords) vibrate and rub against each other. A layer of mucus lubricates them and keeps them from getting irritated. If your vocal folds become dry, they can get irritated and inflamed as you speak. To ensure that your body produces enough mucus:
  • Drink lots of water. Room temperature water is best. Drinking water creates more mucus on your vocal folds. The water you drink now will take a few hours to create more mucus-so start drinking early in the day.
  • Limit pur intake of caffeine and alcohol They dehydrate your body, so are not good for your voice.
  • Warm up pur voice. Certain vocal exercises, similar to the ones that singers use, can help warm up your voice. They are difficult to explain on paper, however. Contact a speech therapist, vocal coach, or singing teacher for instruction.
Occasionally, speech recognition users find that the increased use of their voice creates hoarseness or other voice trouble. If this happens to you routinely, give your voice and software a rest and consult a speech therapist or other qualified professional. Consulting with a speech therapist is typically effective in these cases, and often leads people to discover and solve general problems in using their voices. The best way to find a qualified speech therapist in your area is through personal recommendations from physicians, friends, associates, or a local voice software vendor.

Happily, speaking in a way that is good for your voice will also bring you the highest recognition accuracy. This feeds back on itself Speaking in a clear, relaxed way will bring more accuracy, which brings less frustration, which helps you relax.

Pay attention to what conditions are present when your speech is transcribed well and when your software makes many errors. This feedback from the computer can encourage you to be more relaxed and more articulate.

Dan Newman is a speech recognition consultant specializing is usability and interface design. He is the author of Talk to Your Computer Speech Recognition Made Easy and The Dragon NaturallySpeaking Guide (both available at E-mail