Accents in transcription files

Dealing With Accents in Transcription Audio




Transcription in itself is pretty simple, when you break it down to its core purpose. You are writing down what people say. Yes it’s more complicated when you are actually personally doing it. There are a magnitude of problems you can run into along the way, some you may have already encountered. One of the problems I will be identifying is how to deal with a speaker who happens to have an accent that is different than your own, or foreign to you.

This blog post will cover:

  • Slowing the speech down
  • Listen to the file a couple of times
  • Heavily accented speech archives
  • The golden rule




Slowing the speech down

Some of the simplest suggestions I can make to a new or old transcriptionist is to slow the speech down.

Doing so can solve a whole lot of problems for you while you’re trying to work through a difficult audio file, whether is be clearness of the audio itself, or with a non-native English speaker.

Slowing the speech down can help in a couple of ways.

First, slowing the speech down can help you to hear the enunciation of the syllables of the words they are saying.

And second, slowing the speech down can sometimes help you hear through the background noise. Though there are some playback programs that have the capability to actually help get rid of background noise. Express Scribe Transcription is an example of one.

Though it might take you a bit longer to complete a file by slowing it down to a degree that you can understand a heavy accent, the more difficult or heavily accented a speaker the higher the pay.

Usually a job that has a non-native English speaker pays a little bit more than a general file with native speakers.

So getting used to different accents is a great way to help you make more money.

I personally like the jobs with heavily accented speakers. I like to hear the different accents from across the world, that I would not normally or ever hear without my job as a transcriptionist.

Sometimes it can be like a puzzle to figure out what they’re saying, but I like that challenge, it makes it exciting and fun for me.

And I have come to find that the people who have an accent much different than my own usually talk about some of the most interesting things!



Listen to the file a couple of times

Another thing I would suggest when dealing with an accented speaker is to listen to a short part of the file a couple times at regular speed.

After listening to the speaker a couple of times you can hear the way of their accent, and the way they form words, making it easier to understand them while you’re transcribing.

If you are transcribing a long file, you will be able to understand them the longer you are doing the file, which makes it easier to do the longer files.

When I first started transcribing, I had a hard time understanding accents. I was not very worldly I would say.

I had almost never heard anyone with an accent that was not the same or similar to my own. So I might have had a harder time than most when it came to deciphering a heavy accent.

I would listen to the speaker a say a couple of sentences to try and acclimate myself to their accent.

I would listen at full speed once or twice, and then I would slow down the audio to about 60 percent and start transcribing.

There were times when I just couldn’t understand what they were saying, and I would have to label it as inaudible, but typically a client will understand.

Heavily accented speech archives

Another little trick I found for understanding accents is to look into an accent archive.

There are quite a few universities that have compiled a large database of different accents from across the world.

The university proctor asks the interviewee a set of, typically, 10 basic questions. Usually short answer for the first few.

The other half are longer, and require the speaker to speak more to help with the study to identify different word pronunciations to help identify different dialect accents.

It is actually pretty interesting, and definitely fun. Even if you aren’t dealing with accents, it’s certainly a good read, and fun to listen to the different people speak!

The archive is pretty basic, and most are very easy to search. You can pick any country and they will give you different regions to pick from.

All you have to do is ask you client what country they are from. Doing this will help you to narrow down the accents and also, helps you to identify certain words that are pronounced very different from a native English speaker.

These types of archives have helped me transcribe audio files multiple times, and I highly suggest them to anyone who is trying to transcribe a file, but is encountering some difficulty.

My favorite archive to use is presented by George Mason University. But there are a magnitude of different universities that offer the same archives.

Pick which ever one has the information you need, or whatever is easiest for you to use and find the accent you are searching for.

The Golden Rule

There is literally not a single thing that I can suggest more than to talk to your client.

I like to call it the golden rule, because it really is, when it comes to transcription.

There is virtually no speed bump or problem you can’t overcome with the help from your client.

When you receive a file from a client and it is obviously apparent that it is difficult to understand, or with heavily accented speakers, your client knows this.

If you speak to them and tell them it will take longer to complete the file than anticipated because of the difficulty. Or if you can’t understand specific words.

Your client will know just as much as you do that the file is hard, and they will typically give you a bit of leeway and understand that it is going to be a longer job and you will have some inaudible parts of the file.

However, if you don’t talk to your client and tell them you are having a hard time, they will not know and if you’re late with a deadline, or have large chunks of inaudible dictation, they will not be so understanding.

I have said it 100 times, and I’m sure I will say it 100 more. There is nothing more important than staying in contact with your client.

Just recently, a drunk driver hit a transformer by my house with their car. I was without power for 5 days.

The first thing I did was tell my client that I was going to be late with the deadline. I wanted him to know that I didn’t forget, or purposefully ignore the fact that I had work due.

And because of my communication with him, I kept the contract and continued working through the difficulty of no electric and no internet.

He was understanding, and worked with me.

And that is the exact reaction you will get from almost every single client you have. People understand that sometimes, stuff happens that is out of your control.

But if you never tell them, they will never know.

And all that will do is make your client made, you will get bad feedback, and you will lose money, and possibly the client altogether.

Yes, typically clients will be understanding, but there’s always the other side of the coin. The clients that do not understand and get mad.

All I can say about this is that if it does happen, then it was not a contract that you wanted in the long run.

As you continue to work with clients you build a relationship with them. Yes, it’s still professional, but you can have some form of a friendship even if it’s small.

Those are the contracts you dream about, those are the contracts that you want for the long term. Because these are people who understand that sometimes transcription can be hard, and they help you along the way.

Because you are doing work for them, you are helping them, and most of the clients you will encounter realize that. They realize that you are a team, and they will work with you for both of your success.

Don’t forget to slow the speech, while listening to the file a couple of times, searching some of the accent archives is informational and also fun. But most importantly, keep in contact with your client above all else.