Transcription. Some translators enjoy it as an additional source of income, while other translators flatly refuse to do it. The constant pausing and rewinding can feel tedious, and no one enjoys opening an audio file and hearing garbled speech or distracting background noises. However, I enjoy doing transcription from time to time. To make the experience more enjoyable, make sure to discuss the following with your client:
Does the client want an original transcript, a translated transcript, or both? Some clients just want a word-for-word transcript in the source language. Other clients don’t care about the source language and only want you to produce a translated transcript. You can save time by interpreting the audio as you go. Other clients want both the source and target transcripts—be sure to negotiate your rate accordingly.
How much detail does the client want in the transcript? Will you have to write down every pause, interruption, and false start? Or will the client expect you to clean up the transcript so that it reads smoothly, with complete, grammatically correct sentences? Will you need to include a time stamp every time the speaker changes? Be sure to ask your client. Better yet, ask your client for a sample transcript so that you can copy the house style.
How many speakers are in the recording? How is the audio quality? Both of these questions will help you determine the speed at which you can transcribe the recording. Recordings from business meetings or focus groups can be fascinating, but they can also drive you crazy when several people start talking at the same time. So can background noises or static from a poor recording device. Unless you know you can trust the client’s judgment, always ask for a sample of the recording so that you can judge the sound quality for yourself.
What is the subject of the recording? Just like in translation, the subject and context matter. Even if you transcribe in your native language, a recording with specialized terminology may be hard to understand. You don’t want to be stuck looking up the spelling for every other word—or struggling to keep up as two people mumble subject-specific jargon back and forth!
Are you charging per audio minute, per working hour, or per word? I have seen transcriptionists charge according to all three methods. If you charge per audio minute, you need to adjust your rate according to the variables I mentioned above. One advantage to this method is that there is no question about the total cost; of course, you may get stuck with a low hourly rate if it takes longer than expected. Charging per working hour is one way to ensure a good rate, but it takes some experience to know how many hours you should quote for a given project. Some transcriptionists charge per word, providing an initial project estimate based on the average number of words spoken per minute. This is especially useful for clients who want both a source and target transcript, given that many translators already know their standard rate per word. Choose a method that works for you and your client.
Don’t forget to make time for editing! You should also go through your transcript at least once, for editing purposes. I am always surprised at how much clearer a recording sounds the second or third time through. You will find yourself making corrections as well as filling in sections you couldn’t understand the first time around.
Any other tips for first-time transcriptionists?