For those that don’t use dictation software on their Mac, one of the most frustrating changes in macOS Catalina was the removal of the “Enhanced Dictation” feature which allowed you to dictate offline in macOS Mojave.
This means that by default in Catalina, Big Sur and Monterey, anything you dictate is sent to Apple for online translation by the Siri engine – which isn’t ideal if you’re dictating confidential documents or want to protect your privacy.
Although macOS Dictation can’t compare with professional dictation software like Dragon Dictate, it has improved a lot over the years.
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Can You Dictate Offline On A Mac?
You can still dictate offline in the latest versions of macOS Catalina, Big Sur and Monterey depending on the language you are using.
Unfortunately, if you’re using US English, Voice Control (which is responsible for dictation in the latest versions of macOS) uses the Siri speech-recognition engine on Apple’s servers.
However, all other languages such as UK English use the old Enhanced Dictation engine used in Mojave which is based on language packs that can be downloaded and so works offline too.
Apple has also slightly changed the way you activate dictation in the latest versions of macOS too.
How To Dictate Offline on a Mac
In Mojave, the Dictation preferences look like the panel below.
You simply go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation and check the box Enhanced Dictation in order for macOS to download the language packs necessary to dictate offline.
In macOS Catalina, Big Sur and Monterey the Dictation preferences look like the panel below – the Use Enhanced Dictation option has been removed.
In the latest versions of macOS, there’s also no apparent way of configuring useful formatting commands such as “new paragraph” and “left indent”.
Dictation in Catalina, Big Sur and Monterey will also turn itself off after 30 seconds of no voice input whereas in Mojave, it stays active until you turn it off yourself.
However the good news is that you can activate offline dictation in Catalina, Big Sur and Monterey and still have formatting commands by going to System Preferences > Accessibility > Voice Control and checking the box Enable Voice Control.
This will then automatically download the language packs you need to dictate offline in the latest versions of macOS.
Note that this does not work for US English however. Even if you download the US English language pack, your Mac will still use Siri to translate commands.
The UK English language pack is around 422MB in size so you’ll need to make sure you have enough space on your mac hard drive first.
If you click on the Commands… button, you’ll also see all the different formatting voice commands possible too that used to be available in Enhanced Dictation in Mojave.
You can also activate and deactivate Voice Control by clicking on the floating Voice Control Microphone window or saying “Wake up” or “Go to sleep”.
What’s Voice Recognition Like in macOS Big Sur, Monterey & Catalina?
The voice recognition feature in macOS has never been brilliant, although it’s not terrible either.
The main problem is that it never learns to adapt or recognize your voice or vocabulary like professional dictation software.
The other issue is that whilst it uses Siri for US English which does a pretty good job of transcribing, it still uses the same inferior Enhanced Dictation engine for other languages (such as UK English) for which the results are much poorer.
One of the main problems is there’s quite a delay in non US English languages between the time you speak and the time it takes to transcribe.
The recognition accuracy is also far worse and our advice to users in the UK is to select US English as your language of choice as you’ll get far better results than selecting UK English.
In fact the US English dictation accuracy in the latest versions of macOS gives Dragon Dictate a run for it’s money although it’s not quite on the same level yet.
Voice Control of your Mac meanwhile works much better in Monterey, Big Sur and Catalina than dictating a document and if you just need Voice Recognition for this purpose, it’s faster and more accurate at controlling your Mac than previous versions of macOS.
Our advice is, if you haven’t upgraded to either macOS Big Sur or Monterey yet and rely on dictation for transcribing documents, it’s worth upgrading if you just need it for US English.
For all other languages, it’s best to hold off until Apple has Enabled Enhanced Dictation in the latest versions of macOS.
You can also let Apple what you think about dictation via the Apple macOS feedback page.
How To Dictate Offline On M1/M2 Macs
The instructions above also work for the latest Apple Silicon M1 and M2 Macs.
In addition, on any Apple Silicon Mac general text dictation such as composing messages, notes and anything that is not dictated into a search box, can be done in multiple languages offline with no internet connection required.
M Series Macs also allow you to dictate any length of text without it timing-out.
If you’re concerned about privacy however, you can choose to deactivate dictation manually or macOS dictation will no longer detect your voice when no speech is detected for 30 seconds.
Note however that on both Intel and M1/M2 Macs, anything that you dictate into a search box is sent to an Apple server and cannot be done offline.
If you’re not comfortable with this, check out our guide the best dictation software for Mac.