For more than two decades, having computer translation, voice recognition and handwriting recognition in their mother tongue(s) has been a dream for many of the Indian language speakers including Tamilians. Partnering with institutions around the world, INFITT members have been working on this and had presented many technical papers on the subject in its annual conferences like with TI2010, when Unicode got Tamil Nadu Government’s approval. [This year’s conference is happening at the Anna University, Chennai from September 20-22, 2019]
Even when the support for local languages is in the devices, how effectively are they being used? That’s a discussion that I have written in detail in 2018.
If inventing these technologies in a research lab is one thing, getting it in the hands of users can happen only when the technology giants like Google, Microsoft or Apple bundle it in their products – in 2019 it is imperative these appear in Android Smartphone and iPhone, which are used by several billion people around the world.
Among mainstream vendors, Microsoft was the first to introduce Indian language support starting with Windows 2000. Then for almost a decade, there was a long winter with occasional releases like UI support. Then in 2011 Google brought out fine translation capabilities for Tamil. It was followed in 2014 when Google added handwriting recognition for Tamil in their Google Translate app. Then in 2017 came the most anticipated feature of voice typing in Tamil in Google Search and the Gboard keyboard app. In 2018, Google rounded up their offerings for Tamil by introducing Google Adsense.
Tamil Voice Typing in Android
Ever since it got released in 2017, I have been regularly using the Voice Typing in Tamil feature in my Android phone through the Sellinam app, written by my good friend Mr Muthu Nedumaran, Malaysia. To type a message in Tamil in WhatsApp by just speaking the message, you need to
- Add “Google Voice typing” feature from (in Android 9.0) Settings > System > Language & input > Virtual Keyboard.
- then you need to install the Sellinam app,
- after which you switch to that (Tamil) keyboard by long-pressing the “space” key,
- then press the “Mic” icon (as shown in the picture below),
- once the Google Talk screen comes, press the “gear” icon to set the Languages to have தமிழ் (இந்தியா) as the primary language for voice – Google will insist on having English (India) but you need to put your foot down and stick with தமிழ் (இந்தியா).
Detailed instructions are available from the Sellinam website here.
The quality of Tamil voice typing with Google Voice Typing has been awesome.
Tamil Voice Typing in Windows PC
Unfortunately, this feature has not been brought to the PC or Mac by Google to their Chrome browser. I have been jumping loops to get Tamil text to my PC – first I go to the Google Keep app, create a new note, do voice input and close – then I come to my PC, open keep.google.com, select the note, then copy the text that I had spoken in my phone – certainly, not easy. For some time, I was able to speak in Gmail, then it disappeared (or) I am unable to find it. I was looking for a Chrome extension or an App for Windows that will make it easy, I couldn’t find any.
The solution for this (voice typing in PC) was, as they say was hiding in plain sight! After all, I am not as smart as I make others believe.
Eureka! It occurred to me that I could use Google Docs which supports Voice Typing in all the supported languages. Follow the steps as shown in the below picture and you can dictate in Tamil from your PC or Mac easily. This has greatly improved my productivity while working on my PC.
As a bonus, dear readers, a pro tip exclusively for you.
Opening a browser, going to Google Docs, and, creating a new document every time you want to voice type in Tamil, say for a social media post is not going to be easy. Instead, try this tip which you need to do only once and then onward frequent Tamil voice typing becomes super convenient.
- You create a new document in Google Docs just for this purpose – use this file whenever you want to voice type in Tamil and don’t use it for any other purpose.
- Every time you open the above document and start speaking after pressing Ctrl+Shift+S (the keyboard shortcut in Google Docs for Tools > Voice typing) you need to select “தமிழ்” from the drop-down menu above the microphone icon. To avoid this, set the language preference of the document to “தமிழ்”, you do this from File > Language option.
- Use Google Chrome’s pinning (aka Create Shortcut) feature and get a shortcut pointing to this document available on your desktop. See the steps in the below image.
- Lastly, you may pin this same shortcut to Windows Start Menu from the Recently added list in Start Menu for frequent access. See the below image.
(Update 18-Nov-2021): Windows 11 now supports five Indian languages for Voice typing: Tamil, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi & Telugu. Details are in this post.
Tamil Voice Typing in iOS
(Update 1-Dec-2020) There have been queries on how to enable voice typing in iPhones and iPad. Neither Apple nor Sellinam have any support for voice typing for Tamil. Luckily, Google’s GBoard keyboard app supports Tamil voice typing with the same engine that is used in Android. Unfortunately, the feature is extremely buggy – Not even a single time I could get it to work smoothly.