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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.

This means that by default in Catalina, Big Sur, Monterey and Ventura 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 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.

Note that this works on both Intel Macs and the latest Apple Silicon M1 Macs such as the M1 MacBook Pro and the more recent M2 Macs.

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. enhanced dictation mac

In macOS Catalina, Big Sur, Monterey and Ventura the Dictation preferences look like the panel below – the Use Enhanced Dictation option has been removed.

dictate offline mac catalina

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, Monterey and Ventura and still have formatting commands by going to System Preferences > Accessibility > Voice Control and checking the box Enable Voice Control.

mac catalina dictation 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?

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 macOS 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.

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12 Responses

  1. Adam T

    Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well at all. The microphone blinks and ‘hears’ speech, but only a small portion of text is actually dictated, and accuracy is poor. Go back online and hey presto!–it’s working.

    The previous Enhanced (offline) dictation worked fine, and was ideal for someone like me who needs it when on the move. Because in the real world, gigabit Internet just isn’t always available.

    I shudder every time Apple releases a new OS version. I rely on dictation, and they screw it up with every new release. Invariably it goes non-responsive, leaving me in a blind panic, and unable to work, meet deadlines and feed my family until there’s some patch or workaround available.

    Why the perennial obsession with taking away useful, free features and replacing them with over-complicated, expensive and unreliable ‘enhancements’?

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Give me back enhanced dictation!!

    Reply
    • MacHow2

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Which version of macOS did you find offline dictation worked better in? If it was Mojave, you could always try rolling back to it or use Boot Camp or a virtual machine to install it on a partition on your Mac.

      Reply
  2. Adam T

    Hi, Thanks for your response.

    In my view, and Steve Jobs’, computers should operate like consumer products. You switch them on, they work. Always. Without hiccups.

    The analogy is a carpenter. His old hammer worked fine, but the new, shiny expensive one he just bought just broke. He doesn’t know what model his last hammer was, and doesn’t care WHY his new one broke. He just wants–actually needs–it to work. I will probably ask one of my sons to install the whatsitsname on the watchamacallit as you suggest.

    I also note how Catalina dictation still has another unfortunate characteristic that has been appearing in Dictation for many years, and has never been fixed. When you dictate a longer paragraph, if the buffer gets full–or there’s a delay–it types, then suddenly DELETES what you’ve just dictated. It also does this on occasion if a phrase is repeated. Types it our for a moment, then the cursor just zooms back and deletes all of it. So you have to start again. So Apple has removed a useful feature but never fixed this INFURIATING bug.

    BTW I also tried to log in to Machow2 to post a reply but this didn’t work via Facebook, Gmail, or WordPress. When I tried to upload a response in Brave, it just hung.

    Software developers really do need to follow their users, see what’s going on, and most importantly, fix their bugs.

    Reply
  3. Adam T

    So creating a virtual machine produced a very laggy low-res entity, the solution to which was high effort for MacOS on a VM. Instead, what we did was create a new partition on the Mac’s drive, then created a bootable USB Mojave installer and used it to install Mojave on the partition. The installer must be on a bootable USB as Apple does not allow installers for older versions of Mac OS to be run from the OS.

    Enhanced dictation then works and you have access to your files…but Bruh.

    Reply

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