How To Become A Better Listener
Have you ever heard the one about the escape goat who got off scotch free? How about the damp squid who was a real card shark? I wouldn’t worry, they’re all mute points. However, they are also some of the most commonly misheard phrases, silent but deadly linguistic booby traps waiting in the shadows to catch out new transcribers!
If that’s you, ready up, because it’s time for a crash course in how to develop the all-famous Transcriber’s Discerning Ear™.
Once, twice, three times, and maybe…you’ll get it right
First up, repetition. This is the most obvious and simple way to bust those inaudibles. This is the most obvious and simple way to bust those inaudibles. What sounds the first time like a word no man has ever spoken can begin to unravel if you just give it a second chance, and maybe a third, or a fourth, or…! Who knew that the easiest way to translate Gobbledegook was just to listen to it five times over until it drives you to the verge of insanity?
The slow-mo replay or the sprint to the finish
I spent seven years in school trying to learn French, I passed the exams, got the certificates, all of it, and then I spent a summer in France. Well, it turns out French people don’t speak as slowly as they do in those listening comprehension tapes your teacher played in class. Thankfully, when it comes to transcription, we have the super hi-tech ability to speed up and slow down audio, which comes in handy when you have a speaker who has perfected the ability to speak at twice the speed of sound! Adjusting the tempo might make people sound like Barry White or a chipmunk, depending on whether you’re speeding them up or slowing them down, but it can also be a really useful tool towards helping you figure out those particularly tricky inaudibles.
Practice makes perfect: hear there and everywhere
There is one sure-fire way that will make you into a better listener, and that’s practice, but there are only so many hours in the day and there’s only so long you can sit there working, so what can you do? Well, you don’t just listen to things when you’re transcribing, do you? No, this isn’t an excuse to bug your neighbour’s phone or start eavesdropping on everyone you know. Why not go for the legal options first? Listen to podcasts and audiobooks, although even music can help; perhaps now’s the chance to get out those old songs your Mum used to describe as ‘illegible’ and ‘definitely not speaking English?’ Find something that engages your brain, that you find enjoyable, and you’ve suddenly an easy, fun way to improve those listening skills.
The ultimate test: accents
There is one stumbling block which can slip up even the most-practiced transcriber: accents. Thanks to the globally-interconnected age we now live in, or perhaps the aforementioned failure of the humble Brit to learn another language, non-Native English speakers are a common occurrence in transcription files. Rather ashamedly, our ability to transcribe these files pales in comparison to the respondent’s ability to speak a second language, and so, if you’re struggling with one, the most important thing to remember is patience and perseverance. If there’s one thing you’ll realise as you step further into the world of transcription it’s that nearly every file gets easier as you go along, as you’ll find your ears start to adjust to the speakers’ enunciation. So, allow yourself a bit of slack at first; if you find you’re struggling at the start, push through and come back to it after you’ve finished transcribing the rest of the file, because very often something that sounds illegible at the beginning is easily understood once you’ve got used to someone’s voice.
So, if you ever find yourself struggling, take a breath and relax. It might seem like a moot point, but one day, not so far from now, those free-roaming goats will turn into scapegoats getting off Scot free, and those soggy squids will be replaced by damp squibs who are pretty card sharp. After all, as my mum always says, ‘Patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace. Grace was a transcriber who never washed her face’…or something like that.