Friday, June 6, 2008


Fifteen years ago I transcribed a couple of audio tapes for the first time in my life. I had only an audio cassette player, and being green around the gills in the translation field at that time, I had not even heard of a foot pedal. I spent an enormous amount of time on those two audio tapes and vowed never to do the same job again.

Two days ago a friend and colleague who runs his own translation company came up with an urgent request to transcribe a 10-minute technical video clip in English that he needed to translate into Japanese. I asked him to send it over. The voice was clear.

I hunted around the Internet and found a freeware that could extract just the audio from the video clip. This was the Free Video to MP3 Converter V. It did a fairly good job and gave me an audio file containing the speech to be transcribed (see screenshot).

Now to find an application that would allow me to play the audio clip, pause and restart using shortcut keys. This would facilitate typing out the speech. Another Google search with relevant keywords led me to an application called Express Scribe (see screenshot). Here's the blurb from the website:

Express Scribe Transcription Playback Software

Digital Transcription Audio Player Software

Express Scribe is a professional audio player software for PC, Mac or Linux designed to assist the transcription of audio recordings. It is installed on the typist's computer and can be controlled using a transcription foot pedal or using the keyboard (with 'hot' keys). This computer transcriber application also offers valuable features for typists including variable speed playback, multi-channel control, file management and more. This program is free.

I ran the mp3 file through this utility and it did a satisfactory job. I had to go listen to the audio clip about four to five times after having typed out a rough draft, and also to check the website for product names and company names that occurred in the speech. Transcription of a 10-minute video tape grabbed four hours of my time – this included searching the Internet for an appropriate Video to MP3 converter and an audio playback player suitable for transcription, typing out the speech while listening to the audio clip, revising and re-listening the entire about four times, and confirming the spelling of product and company names. I can however do a similar job now in about half the time since I have the tools for the job on my system.

Do you know of other tools comparable to Express Scribe? Please feel free to comment.


Ryan Ginstrom said...

A little off topic, but I was a linguist in the US Air Force from 1988 to 1993, and did a heck of a lot of transcribing. We were on big tape reels when I started, but by the time I left we had digital audio (which was great, because you could slow down the audio without affecting the pitch).

I got so I was very good at transcribing. I also decided that it was definitely not something I wanted to do ever, ever again :)

Gururaj Rao said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. With these tools however, it isn't too bad. I think I can now finish transcripts quickly because with Express Scribe I can reduce the speech rate to suit my typing speed; although I'm wouldn't go looking out for transcription work!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the information. Regarding input, I use MacSpeech Dictate on a Mac. Although the dictation isn't perfect and I have to go over it again and check it, the program really cuts down on my transcription time. Dragon Naturally Speaking is the PC equivalent of MacSpeech Dictate, though I have never used it. Neither program is free, but the MacSpeech Dictate has more than paid for itself.