6 top tips for transcribing audio

Transcription headphones

A professional translator’s job involves more than just translating documents, interpreting and revision. Many projects involve transcribing audio, often into more than one language – subtitling videos, legal depositions, recordings of meetings and conferences, etc. 

To successfully transcribe a video recording, the translator must have a “good ear” and be able to use tools and methods effectively and efficiently to process information. So, here are some tips on what you can do to speed up your work.

1. Earphones are your friends
Some clients’ recordings will have a good sound quality. Others… not so much. This is a good enough reason to get a pair of good quality earphones that are comfortable to wear and, if possible, to get noise cancelling earphones to filter out any distractions.

2. Listen and analyse carefully
|On receiving a recording from a client, it is important to carefully assess the sound quality to detect any faults and difficult sections in advance. If there are a lot of problems, then try asking the client to send a better quality version if they can. It might be necessary to change the price and/or deadline, depending on the difficulties caused by the (lack of) audio quality.

3. Type quickly and accurately without looking!
The ability to type quickly and accurately is a basic skill any professional transcriber must master. If you cannot type quickly, you will make more mistakes and take much longer than anticipated to complete the task, ultimately wasting your time. With practice you should be able to move on to the next level: touch typing: that is, typing accurately without looking at the keyboard, which is a skill that will increase your productivity exponentially.

Regardless of how well you can type, always remember that it is very important to check what you have typed. If you need to go a bit slower, well, that is preferable to misinterpreting the content!

4. Control the speed of the recording
As you are transcribing you may encounter problems with the speaker’s accent, recording noise or poor audio quality, among other things. One solution for this is to use software that allows you to hear the recording more clearly and isolate the more problematic sections. VLC Media Player is a good tool for this, particularly since it is free and compatible with almost all operating systems and audio and video formats. Moreover, it allows you to easily control the playback speed, enabling you to slow the recording, which will help you to make out some of the less clear words.

5. From speech to text – transcription software
There are a number of audio transcription programs available that process segments of the audio and export them directly to text. A little like machine translation though, these programs cannot do the work on their own – but they can be useful for creating a “draft” that can speed the work up.

6. Always be aware of what the client wants
Never forget to contact the client in good time to understand just how the transcription should be finalised, formatted and presented. It is important to clarify the final delivery terms with the client, particularly details of delivery file formats, fonts and text styles, time annotations (essential for subtitling or legal transcripts) or other project-specific requirements. By doing so, you will help avoid misunderstandings and delivery delays.

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