How to deal with Strong Accents in Transcription

Transcribing audio may seem like a very simple job, but often it is much more complicated than it appears. One of the things that can complicate the process is a strong accent, especially one you do not know very well and are not used to hearing.

Here are a few tips for dealing with incomprehensible accents;

If you come across audio that you find hard to follow because of a strong accent, listen to the file, or the same part of it, a few times without trying to transcribe it. You will find that once you grasp a few words, the rest becomes easier, and the more you listen to the speaker, the easier they become to understand.

Find out as much as you can about the speaker, such as where they are from, and try to get material on the subject they are discussing. Knowing what their accent really is, may help you distinguish words, and having background material on the subject could give you indications of what word is being pronounced.

You can try slowing down the recording, (if your software lets you), as that might help. Sometimes this causes too much noise and makes things more difficult, so you cannot rely on this method, but it is worth a try.

Believe it or not there is an ‘International Dialects of English Archive’, called IDEA. It has very many samples from 120 countries and is the largest archive of accents. This offers samples of men and women from all over the world so you can learn their accents and how they say words.

There are some basic rules that tend to be nearly always true. For instance, many Asians have problems with the letter ‘r’ and often pronounce it as ‘l’, so ‘read’ becomes ‘lead’. Italians call an ‘e’ an ‘i’ so ‘the girl’s name ‘Linda’ becomes ‘leenda’. The English ‘th’ is difficult for many countries so ‘this’ gets said as ‘dis’ ‘zis’ and many other versions. Even the Irish, who speak English as their first language, say ‘one, two tree’ when counting.

If nothing seems to help, speak to your client. They are probably used to the speaker and can interpret for you until you get to grips with the accent.