I have been using Dragon Dictate for some time and I love it. I am in fact speaking to my computer now. If your arms or hands are hurting from the typing, consider buying it.

Talking to a computer is easy, but you must remember to keep calm
Shoba Narayan

May 17, 2014 Updated: May 17, 2014 17:41:00

People who follow my work will know that I have three obsessions. The first is to lose weight without exercising. The second is to slow down my mind without necessarily meditating and the third is to discover fun smartphone and computer apps that will help me with endeavours one and two.

I like to think that I exercise on a continuous basis. I stretch while waiting for the lift and do squats while the milk is boiling. I stand on a wobble board while working on my computer and I wear funky shoes that cause me to sway like a tree.

Stilling the mind is more problematic, because my mind, as the yoga gurus would say, is like a restless monkey. It is on the move all the time, refusing to be corralled. I tried sitting in the lotus position but it didn’t work.

Recently, I have discovered a fantastic tool that really does help focus my mind. It is a dictation tool called Dragon Dictate and all you need to do is speak loudly and clearly for it to transcribe your words into text on the computer screen.

Dragon Dictate has been around for a while now, but I never considered it before because I thought it wouldn’t understand my Indian-American accent. When my own mother had trouble with how I switched from formal American to excited Indian, how could I expect a software program to catch up?

It was Siri who gave me hope. Siri is an inanimate app bundled into Apple’s iPhone and iPad, but she can seem eerily human. Ask her how to achieve world peace, for example, and see what she comes up with.

There are many other programs like Dragon Dictate. Just type “dictation software” into your computer and see what I mean. However, for my needs it was really a choice between the dictation software bundled into my MacBook Air and Dragon.

I began to try dictation mostly because my arms hurt when I typed. I was nervous about getting carpal tunnel syndrome and the only options seemed to be either to hire a secretary, which I couldn’t afford, or to start talking to my computer.

I first tried dictating directly to my laptop, and it was a disaster. The built-in software simply couldn’t understand my accent. The more frustrated I became, the more I yelled, and the worse it typed.

Dragon Dictate, in contrast, served me much better. It understood what I said, and I could train it to type the strange Indian words that I used like “masala” and “desi”. It started, for example, with “DC” for desi but pretty soon it began to understand what I was saying.

The real benefit, however, had nothing to do with dictation and everything to do with meditation. I don’t know if you are one of those people who can think in whole paragraphs. I am not. I stutter and stammer. My speech is liberally peppered with “uhhh” and “mmm” and other incomprehensible phrases. In order to dictate into a device, I have to gather my thoughts and slow them down. I have to think in whole sentences. In fact, I am doing that now as I dictate this essay. It is a mobile app version of breathing in and out.

Like Lumosity, Fit Brains and other mobile-phone apps that attempt to improve concentration in humans, dictation software offers centring benefits that are a happy by-product of the actual task at hand.

To think in sentences involves pausing and rehearsing in your mind the actual words that you want to say. To continue in this manner involves concentration in the face of a blinking device with the prompt “record”.

Do this often enough and you don’t even have to sit in the lotus position and take calming breaths – because you see, there is no point yelling at your dictation software for typing in “phrases” as “freezes”. You have to take a deep breath and get the words out again. The calmer you are, the better it types.

Shoba Narayan is the author of ­Return to India: A Memoir

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