Voice Typing Fails—How Co:Writer Speech Feedback Can Help

By Mary Pembleton

Text Message Conversation with Mistakes

Most of us have been here. Sitting at a stoplight, or walking through a store, we ask our digital virtual assistant, whoever they may be, to text a friend or a loved one for us.

Text message conversation with voice to text mistakes

And that virtual assistant totally minces your words.

Text message conversation with speech to text mistakes

Perhaps these misunderstandings are cause for a laugh. Perhaps they present us with minor frustrations. Perhaps, at worst, you drive to meet somebody at the wrong time, or show up to the wrong location, or somebody’s sister gives birth to a gorilla.


It’s clear how even one wrong word can change the entire meaning of a sentence…. dramatically. For those of us with neurotypical brains, it’s usually easy enough to catch these mistakes. Why? Because we are able to glance over the scripted words and evaluate them for accuracy, grammar, and correct meaning in mere seconds, before the light turns green again or before we bump into a store shelf. We are able to read, or ask our virtual assistant to read, our friend’s horrified response and piece together where, exactly, our trip to see Santa went terribly wrong.


We took the kids to see Satan and Ethan cried the entire time! He was so scared, poor little guy.
Poor guy is right!  I would cry too if you sat me down on Satan’s lap!! 
Holy moly… I meant SANTA!!  


Now. For students with reading and learning disabilities, what poses a simple enough problem for many of us can present a complex obstacle to effective communication. When a student uses speech-to-text and isn’t able to make corrections by merely glancing over their writing, a story about a family trip to the beach can come out on the page as something like “taking a turn to go to Iceland,” and because of the limitations they experience, they may be unaware of the drastic change in destination.


This is the difference between thousands of miles and a climate as dissimilar as night and day. It is the difference between the sun’s warmth, sand castles and waves, and darkness and ice and lava fields and northern lights. It is the difference between the magic of effective communication, and the beautiful connections that follow in its wake, and being misunderstood and frustrated.


At Don Johnston, we’re deeply interested in providing students and teachers with the right tools to build bridges over such learning challenges, bridges that can potentially span the miles that separate them from their full potential. One such bridge we’ve recently raised in Co:Writer is a feature erected with speech recognition’s typical limitations in mind. And it can assist  that student to realize academic independence.

young student working on writing with a co:writer pop up

Co:Writer has some similarities to the virtual assistant that helps text our friends and family, but with a lot of extra superpowers built in. With speech recognition, translation, and grammar-and-vocabulary-smart word prediction, we created Co:Writer to give students the right tools to express themselves as writers across multiple platforms and devices.


You know that magical feeling you get when you manage to find the exact right words to articulate an idea on the page? Co:Writer clears a student’s pathway of the obstacles that can prevent them from thinking of themselves as a writer. We may not all have a Shakespeare inside us vying to get out, but the wonderful feeling we associate with being understood should be a universal human experience, and Co:writer is the great equalizer to level barriers to that experience. Think of Co:Writer as a transformative multi-functional toolkit that aims to make that wonderful feeling accessible to as many human beings as possible—especially those of us who struggle with turning thoughts into writing.


As we’ve worked with educators to achieve that goal, we’ve found that the most common thing they encounter with any writing assistant is the difficulties students experience in reading, understanding, and editing any misinterpretations or mistakes. Maybe your students struggle to pinpoint where they need to edit or revise, or maybe they need help knowing if they need to edit or revise their writing at all. While we’re very proud of Co:Writer’s speech-to-text precision, anyone who’s ever used any speech-to-text function knows it will never be 100% accurate. That’s where speech feedback comes in.

Co:Writer word processing animation

Co:Writer’s Speak after Speech-to-Text tool will read aloud the text a student has written with speech-to-text, highlighting each word on the screen in yellow as it speaks it. This helps the writer track words across the page and more easily identify where speech-to-text has made an error. Co:Writer also underscores potential grammatical or word-choice errors, allowing the writer to click the underlined word so they can select the intended or appropriate word from a refined list of potential suggestions.


Hands-on learner? Don’t just let us tell you about it; we’d love to invite you to experience Co:Writer’s transformative magic for yourself. That way we can better illustrate how Co:Writer can equip and empower your students with the right words. Once you’ve downloaded your free Co:Writer trial, you can locate the new Speak after Speech-to-text feature under Co:Writer’s options page.

Annimation showing the different Co:Writer Integrations

Co:Writer can integrate with your platform of choice (including Google Classroom), so once you return to the page, click the microphone and say out loud the words you’d like Co:Writer to scribe for you. Once you’re finished, click the microphone again, and Speak after Speech-to-Text will highlight and read the words you’ve written, tracking them across the page.

We’re excited for Speak after Speech-to-Text to join the varied and intuitive array of tools that Co:Writer offers its writers. With access to 4 million Topic Dictionaries to help select on-topic vocabulary in most any area of study, finely tuned speech-to-text, and the newfound ability to help students edit their work, Co:Writer can help redirect your student from that unplanned and shockingly cold trip to Iceland, back to the warm, sandy beach experience they were trying to write about in the first place.


The great writer Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Now, we could argue that having a gorilla inside of you is much worse, but who are we to disagree with Maya Angelou? Accidentally writing a much different story than the one inside of you though, that’s also a bummer. Writing is a way to bring the bright and brilliant person inside of each and every one of us out into the open for the world to see, and Co:Writer is proud to partner with writers to help them express exactly who they are on the page.


For more information and to get a free trial, Click here.

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