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Translators Dictate

“He found that replacing his typewriter with a Dictaphone not only increased his output but also eliminated the strain of typing each manuscript.”



This report in no way is a call to discard keyboards in favor of dictation, just to take advantages of them both. The keyboard is a precise instrument, while speech is a fast and natural one. At all times translators have been used “ponies”, or interlinear translation. Speech recognition technology allows making fast interlinear translation using your voice. Furthermore, dictation practice can set you free from permanent “chained-to-desk” condition, which translators are fated to.

By the way, as I have a big family, I can't afford to work much time at home on my computer. My usual “office” is my car parked near the schools or activity centers where I bring my children daily. And this is a perfect place for dictating and correcting of transcribed dictation.

Alternating dictation with correction (and sometimes touch-typing as well) in easy medium, the boundary between work and non-work becomes fuzzier, and the accustomed strain is relieving.

It's Just Input with Voice Instead of Hands

If to compare TRANSLATION and INTERPRETING from pure technical point of view, the main difference is speed. Speech makes about 3000 words per hour and it is a natural process. Translators type much slower, switching attention alternately between reading, typing, checking in dictionaries and so on.

Of course, when you dictate a document, your output can’t be a high quality translation, it needs corrections and proofreading. From my experience, I estimate that text obtained by dictation is about 50–80% text job done, depending on text complexity. It is a “pony”, interlinear translation.

Another big advantage lies in a fact that speaking aloud of draft translation rapidly “downloads” the text to your head, which makes corrections later much easier. In the process of dictation, your mind quickly runs over different variants of phrases. You can also dictate those different versions and later select the best ones in the resulting text.

Speech Recognition

For years, I hired typists to transcribe my dictation files, and sometimes I did it by myself as there was no working software for Russian speech recognition.

The breakthrough was made by Google, though, only as voice input on websites. In 2013 I found a website, where you can convert your voice into text documents — (Russian version — Since then, I use it for all my translations. Of course, it makes more mistakes then a typist, but still works quite good for me, and it is quite free and always available if your internet connection is good.

Apart from Russian, sometimes I input simple English and Ukrainian text (generally, when I help my children with their homework).

Dictation “TM-Ready”

If you want your dictation to be easily convertible to Translation memory, the source sentences should be in strict order, so that later you could easily align them with dictated translation. For this purpose, I clean the source text from formatting elements and remove repetitions and non-translatable segments, thus obtaining a source “core” for dictation (see my articles “Translation Labor Division” and “Translator’s Factory” Toolkit).

Another issue is that dictation of bare text can become rather boring and demanding task.

Once, I borrowed the instrument used by TV news announcers. They read their news from the moving text lines — “marquee” on the teleprompter mirror placed in front of the camera, so it seems as if they look at viewers while speaking.

I use my Marquee tool, which converts the text into an HTML-file with running line. Under the line there are Speed control buttons allowing adjusting it to your dictation tempo. The running text line holds attention in the same way as a person you talk to, therefore, dictation is made easily, almost with no strain.

As I get a new translation job, the first thing I do is use my “TranslatorsFactory” toolkit for Word to prepare a one-column table with source text cleaned from formatting elements, repetitions, and non-translatables. Each cell of the table contains one source segment.

Then I generate a marquee — an HTML-file, which I run either on a PC, or a laptop, or an android tablet — along with audio-recorder for dictation.

When dictation is completed, I convert the audio-record to text, insert it in the second column of the table, align it with source segments, and correct.

After applying the TM to the source document, all that is necessary to do is to correct it using a CAT tool.

Writers and Translators Dictate

Another quote from Erle Stanley Gardner’s biography:

“In 1932 (!) Gardner began to dictate his stories on wax cylinders, turning them over to his secretary for transcriptions. ... Called ‘the Henry Ford of detective fiction’ Gardner had typed 66,000 words a week”.

This means approx. 5–7 hour dictation every day. And it's about year 1932, wax cylinders, and an author recognized to be the classic of the genre! Someone could object that translation is quite different from writing. Then here is another story.

Some time ago, an interesting post appeared on a's forum. The author was Don Hank from the USA, who had been dictating translation (full time) for over 40 years, sending dictation files to his typist. Don asked “Is TRADOS worth it if I dictate translation?”. Of course, there were many good answers. In the end he summarized:

“Thanks for the great answers. ... I guess I will not be buying any spiffy new tools for a while. My typist would starve anyway if I started typing. By the way, I have always liked the dictating approach because you never have to take your eyes off the page. AND the typist also creates all those tables and inserts the figures, jobs I don't like.”

Hope, this man makes not less and not worse translation than many of those who use “spiffy new tools”.

A Few Words about Machine Translation

Just a while ago machine translation was taboo for language service providers. Today, increasingly frequently, quite solid companies use MT for localizing their websites and paperwork. And quite solid agencies offer proofreading of machine translation. Especially interesting, some of those jobs are corrections of mixed MT fragments, like eBay ads, which are used for development of Google translation engine utilizing statistical machine translation technology. This is the “cutting edge”. When I performed those jobs, I felt like a small cog in the artificial intellect machine. Though, suppose, it is an inevitable trend. At least for technical translation. (In fact, the vast majority of translations are technical.)


Dictation approach seems to be an undeveloped land. Though promising. What is the real value of dictation — it remains human language, while its speed is comparable to machine translation.

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