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Dictate email messages in Microsoft Outlook

Microsoft's new Cortana-powered plug-in adds speech recognition to the desktop mail client, and can even translate your words to different languages.

I can dictate an email on my phone, so why can't I do likewise on my computer?

It's now possible, at least for Microsoft Outlook users: Microsoft's new Dictate add-in brings voice recognition to Word, PowerPoint and Outlook.

Powered by the same technology used in Cortana, Dictate will quickly turn your spoken words into text. Cooler still, it can automatically translate those words into different languages. Let's take a look at how to use the add-in and make the most of it.

Step 1: Close any running Microsoft Office programs.

Step 2: Download and install Dictate, making sure to get the version (32- or 64-bit) that matches your Office version.

Step 3: Run Outlook, create a new email (or start a reply), then look for Dictate's newly added microphone icon, which should appear on the right edge of the Ribbon.

Step 4: Click to put your cursor in the body of the new email, then click the microphone icon to start voice recognition. Now start talking!

Don't be surprised if it seems like nothing is happening for the first few seconds. Dictate differs a bit from speech-recognition on your phone, in that words don't appear as you say them. Rather, the engine waits for a pause, like when you finish a sentence, then pastes in the text.

microsoft-dictate-outlook

Click the Dictation tab to get a better experience with the Dictate plug-in, including language translation!

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

What's more, there's no indication that the engine is actually working, other than a slight change to the microphone icon. It doesn't flash or beep or anything useful like that; it merely shows a little "recording" badge. Even then, on my system Dictate frequently missed my first few words. I found I had to pause a few seconds after clicking Start.

You get a better (and more versatile) experience by clicking the Dictation tab in the Ribbon. The Response field shows your words immediately as you say them, the better to make sure Dictate is actually working. You can also choose a translation option that can turn your spoken-word English into any of 60 languages. (Dictate can recognize up to 20 languages.) Just make your selection(s) from the From and To drop-down menus.

In my tests, the plug-in wasn't always 100-percent accurate, but it did a surprisingly good job of inserting punctuation -- not just at the end of sentences, but within them as well. Ask a question and it automatically adds a question mark. Say, "Right, but let me ask you another question," and it automatically adds that comma after "Right." Clever.

Because this is a Microsoft Garage project, there's no guarantee it'll become a permanent part of Outlook. But if you've always wished you could dictate email messages (to say nothing of entire documents, in Word), now you can.

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