Writing and thinking versus speaking and thinking (aka musings on using dictation software)

I haven’t written on this blog for quite a while because I recently fractured my wrist after taking a tumble walking out on the North Downs. It’s my left wrist and I’m left-handed and as it’s a carpal bone it’s taking a long time to heal. One of the many consequences of my injury is that I am unable to hand write or use a keyboard.

After what has seemed like many frustrating weeks of tapping the keyboard with my less than competent right fingers (painfully slowly!), I am now using Dragon software. For readers not familiar with this, it’s very handy dictation software. It’s been taking a bit of getting used to but I am now finding it very helpful and I have written this piece today with Dragon.

However, dictating what goes on a page involves a very different thinking process to handwriting or tapping things out on a keyboard and I’ve been thinking a lot about this difference. For straightforward tasks like the majority of emails dictating them is great and really easy. But when I’m doing more formal academic writing, I find that the actual physical process of writing helps to advance my thinking and to resolve problems. Sometimes I find the best way of getting through writing difficulty is to move away from the computer and take a notebook and pencil and simply write, cross things out and make a mess. Speaking in the form of dictating to the computer is quite a departure and I’ve been finding it a bit more difficult. For example, I’m writing up a report on some surveys for a project I manage so it’s in an academic style. It feels as though dictating what I want to write, saying it out loud is more challenging. Of course, I know from my PhD research that speaking is believed to facilitate the development of understanding (e.g. Barnes, 1992) but this is about speaking with another person and collaborating. I am not so sure about the monologue involved in speaking to the computer. Having said all this, speaking my thoughts about what I want to write is still helpful, it’s just not what I’m used to. One of the advantages I’m finding is that it’s enabling me to write in a more informal style which although not always appropriate, has its own benefits and, it could be argued, is adding a new dimension to my writing. So once my hand is healed, I will probably still find some uses for the dictation software because I think it’s giving me access to a different kind of writing and thinking.


Barnes, D. (1992) The role of talk in learning, IN: Norman, K. Ed. Thinking Voices: The Work of the National Oracy Project. Oxford: Blackwell, 123-138.

Language World 2013

I’ll be at Language World 2013 at Nottingham Trent University on Friday 22 March and will be staffing the Routes into Languages exhibition stand with my LLAS colleague, Erika Corradini and the Routes East Midlands team. We’re looking forward to letting delegates know about the work of Routes and we’ll also be giving away lots of free resources.

I’ll also be hoping to pop in to a few of the sessions. Ross Cooper’s presentation on improving memory and Matt Davis’ on language learning and the brain both sound particularly fascinating. I’ll be looking for a few tips that I can use in my own language learning as I’m doing evening classes in Spanish. Other talks of interest are Drama, differentiation and meaning (Liz Black) and Making the most of Skype – bringing the world into your classroom (Bertram Richter and Inmaculada Morris). Both of these look to be about helping to create a motivational purpose for speaking, which is a research interest of mine. David Crystal is bound to be good too. Overall, it looks like a great programme and should be a really enjoyable event.

Fascinating undergraduate research in languages, linguistics and area studies

I’ve just been reading the latest edition of Début, the undergraduate research journal for languages, linguistics and area studies and came across a fascinating piece of linguistics research by Emily Moline from the University of Florida http://www.studyinglanguages.ac.uk/sites/default/files/pages/108/Debutv3n2.pdf

Moline has carried out a small research study on the use of uptalk by men and women in conversation. Uptalk refers to the tendency to use rising intonation (as in a question) at the end of a statement. It has previously been suggested that uptalk is a feature of young women’s talk and that it signals lack of confidence. Moline used participant-directed home recordings of conversations with three pairs (female, male, male & female) to investigate the following research questions:

  • Do women have higher uptalk usage?
  • How is uptalk used by men and women?

Her findings indicated that uptalk is used by speakers to signal that they would like to continue holding the floor so in effect, it is a way of extending the speaker’s turn. Interestingly, results did not show greater use of uptalk among female speakers – male speakers were found to use it too.

This was a small study and of course, more research would be needed to replicate findings but it is another very worthwhile piece of undergraduate research and is accessible online through Début.