How to Use Speech Recognition to Control Windows With Your Voice

Microsoft Windows has a built-in speech recognition tool

A man with an empty speech bubble facing a woman with an empty speech bubble
Malte Mueller / Getty Images

When Microsoft added the Cortana voice assistant to Windows 10, many people balked at the idea of talking to their PC despite everything Cortana can do. Nonetheless, previous versions of Windows also support speech recognition, so it's always been possible to control your PC with your voice.

Information in this article applies to Windows 10, Windows 8, and Windows 7.

Why Use Windows Speech Recognition?

There are many reasons why someone may not be able to use their hands to navigate a PC such as a disability or an injury. That's why speech recognition was built into Windows: To help those who have to overcome a physical problem. Even so, Speech Recognition is also a great tool for anyone who wants to experiment with voice interaction or would just rather not use their hands to control their PC all the time.

How to Turn on Windows Speech Recognition

You can turn on Windows Speech Recognition in the Control Panel. The interface for each version of Windows is a little different, but the steps for activating Speech Recognition are basically the same:

  1. Open the Windows Control Panel and enter Speech Recognition in the search box.

    Windows Control Panel
    Open the Windows Control Panel and enter Speech Recognition in the search box.
  2. Select Start Speech Recognition.

    Speech Recognition
    Select Start Speech Recognition.
  3. A new window will appear briefly explaining what Speech Recognition is. Select Next at the bottom of the window.

    Windows Speech Recognition window
    Select Next at the bottom of the Windows Speech Recognition window.
  4. Select the type of microphone you're using for speech recognition, then select Next.

    Windows is fairly good at identifying the correct type of microphone you have, but you should still make sure the selection is correct.

    Type of microphone you're using for speech recognition
    Select the type of microphone you're using for speech recognition and select Next.
  5. Read the tips about the proper placement of the microphone and select Next.

    Tips about proper placement of the microphone
    Read the tips about proper placement of the microphone and select Next.
  6. Read a few lines of text to make sure your microphone is working properly and that the volume level is right. Once you're done speaking, select Next.

    While you speak, you should see the volume indicator remain in the green zone. If it gets higher than that, you'll need to adjust your microphone volume in the Control Panel.

    Microphone is working properly
    Read a few lines of text to make sure your microphone is working properly then select Next.
  7. Select Next again.

    Windows microphone screen
    Select Next again.
  8. Select Enable document review to allow Windows to look at the documents and email caches on your PC, then select Next. This can help the operating system understand the common words and phrases you typically use.

    Read over Microsoft's Privacy Statements before deciding whether or not you want to enable this feature. Alternatively, you can select Disable document review.

    Enable document review
    Select Enable document review, then select Next.
  9. Choose between Manual and Voice Activation mode, then select Next.

    • Manual mode means you must use the keyboard shortcut Win + Ctrl before giving voice commands
    • Voice activation mode is activated by saying "Start Listening."
    • Both methods use the command "Stop Listening" to turn off Speech Recognition.
    Manual and Voice Activation mode
    Choose between Manual and Voice Activation mode, then select Next.
  10. Select View Reference Sheet to view and print off the Windows Speech Recognition reference card, then select Next.

    You must be connected to the internet to download the reference card.

    View Reference Sheet
    Select View Reference Sheet to view and print off the Windows Speech Recognition reference card, then select Next.
  11. Mark sure Run Speech Recognition at startup is checked and select Next one last time.

    Run Speech Recognition at startup
    Mark sure Run Speech Recognition at startup is checked and select Next.
  12. Select Start Tutorial to learn more about the Speech Recognition tool, or select Skip Tutorial.

If you decide to skip the tutorial, you can always navigate to Control Panel > Speech Recognition > Take Speech Tutorial to view it.

Start Tutorial to learn more about the Speech Recognition tool
Select Start Tutorial to learn more about the Speech Recognition tool, or select Skip Tutorial.

How to Use Windows Speech Recognition

Once enabled, the Speech Recognition tool will appear at the top of your screen. Say "Start Listening" or type Win + Ctrl to activate it. You should hear a sound letting you know Speech Recognition is ready and listening. If you ever ask for something that Speech Recognition can't carry out, you'll hear an error sound.

Some commands can be used at any time, while others are context-sensitive. For example, using Speech Recognition while you are in a text document will add your words to the page. If you want to create a new Microsoft Word document using Windows voice commands:

  1. Activate Speech Recognition and say "Open Word."

    Activate Speech Recognition
    Activate Speech Recognition and say "Open Word.".
  2. Say "Blank Document" to open a new document.

    Blank Document to open a new document.
    Say "Blank Document" to open a new document.
  3. Say "Hello comma welcome to speech recognition period."

When adding text with voice commands, you must specify punctuation.

Speech Recognition while you are in a Microsoft Word document
Using Speech Recognition while you are in a Microsoft Word document will add your words to the page.

Speech Recognition doesn't work perfectly with all third-party programs. Your favorite text editor may not accept dictation, for example, but opening and closing programs, as well as navigating menus, works well enough.

Using Speech Recognition With Cortana

One issue to note for Windows 10 users is that you'll run into frustration if you try to use the "Hey Cortana" voice command while Speech Recognition is active. To get around this, you can turn off Speech Recognition with the "Stop Listening" command before using Cortana. Alternatively, say "Open Cortana" and then use Speech Recognition's "typing" functionality to input your request into the Cortana search box.