Foreign Language Transcription vs. Audio Translation

Dec 17


Jeff Noctis

Jeff Noctis

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What many companies call foreign language transcription is actually audio translation. This sometimes leads to confusion when a client wants a Spanish recording transcribed as Spanish text or when the client would like audio translation but only gets a foreign language transcript. The following article seeks to eliminate that confusion.


There’s a lot of confusion out there regarding the use of the terms Spanish transcription and Spanish translation (one may substitute any language for Spanish). It’s important to state that there is a difference between Spanish translation and Spanish transcription.  It’s not just the clients of transcription services who make the error but also many of the transcription companies. Transcription is simply the making of a text copy of either a speech or text source. Most commonly, transcription is the conversion of speech from an audio/video source to a text format. However,Foreign Language Transcription vs. Audio Translation Articles papers such as passports, handwritten letters, and subpoenas also often find their way to a transcriptionist. The thing to remember is that transcription is always monolingual. Translation on the other hand, is bilingual.

Spanish transcription and Spanish translation shouldn’t be used synonymously as they refer to separate services rendered by different professionals.  For example, you will need Spanish transcription services if you have dictation from a Spanish speaking physician that needs to be transcribed as Spanish text. However, if you have Spanish language dictation that needs to be converted to English text, then you will need Spanish/English translation services.

Many companies are misleading when they state that they offer Spanish transcription services. Often, what they are actually offering is Spanish audio translation. Audio translation is like audio transcription in that someone listens to a speech recording and types it in a document format. However, converting speech to text isn’t the definition of transcription. (Remember text to text transcription?) When someone listens to a Spanish recording and types what they hear in English, they are translating.

This type of translation, i.e., audio translation, is also sometimes referred to as “on-the-fly” translation or even simultaneous translation. Because the translator is listening to speech in Spanish and simultaneously typing text in English, audio translation can be less accurate than desired. The translator at times is prone to misinterpret statements or even confuse the grammar in the target language. These problems are often corrected during the proofreading process (if you paid for proofing) but errors can and do remain in the final document. Thus, if accuracy is critical as it is with legal and medical translation, your best bet would be to combine transcription and translation services. This is known as transcription/translation, TT, or translication. However, with many types of general translation, on-the-fly audio translation is more than adequate and much less expensive. A quicker turnaround time and cheaper cost are the main reasons to consider on-the-fly audio translation services.

The other option is translication or TT. This first involves transcribing the Spanish speech as Spanish text. Once it is transcribed and proofed, the text is then translated into English. Both the Spanish transcript and English translation are presented to the client. Because the translator is translating from Spanish text which is permanently available for viewing, the translation is likely to have fewer errors. Spanish speech, on the other hand, is gone once the words are spoken. The translator has to backup the recording and listen again which can be cumbersome when trying to translate to a different language.

So, if you are ever looking for foreign language transcription, audio translation, or transcription/translation (TT) services, be sure that both you and the service provider are on the same page with regard to the definitions of these terms.

The following are transcription/translation definitions:

*Audio Transcription – the conversion of the spoken word to a text format in the same language.

*Text Transcription – the conversion of a text document such as a passport or handwritten letter to a different text format such as Microsoft Word (in the same language).

*Audio Translation – the translation of speech in language “A” to text in language “B” at the same time the speech is being listened to. Also referred to as on-the-fly speech to text translation.

*Text Translation – the process of translating text in one language to its equivalent written word in a different language.

*Transcription/Translation, TT, Translication – the process of first transcribing speech in language “A” to text in language “A.” Then the transcript is translated to text in language “B.”