From Mouth to Screen: The Use of Dictation Software in Translation

Translators face a slew of occupational hazards: carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, back problems, and even hernias, to name a few. These are the risks we take as translators, as the job requires we spend a great deal of time sitting and typing. Choosing between our productivity and our health will not yield a positive outcome either way. Therefore, tools exist for translators that want to keep both their word count and their physical health in good standing. Among these tools, dictation software is one of the most effective, even though it has its pitfalls.

Dictation software is a computer program that turns a person’s voice into typed words on a screen. It allows you to talk instead of type, which is not only less fatiguing, but also more productive The average typing speed for a professional is about 65 words per minute, which means that using dictation software can potentially double your productivity as a translator.

Dictation software prevents carpal tunnel and other job-related injuries

Because you’re not using your hands, you are less at risk of damaging your nerves and tendons. You will also likely reach your daily word count minimum sooner, meaning you’ll suffer less position-related issues from sitting for extended periods of time. Creative translators might also find more ways to enjoy hands-free work, such as translating while walking on a treadmill or doing house chores (especially if you happen to own a wireless headset).

Dictation software has its downsides

First of all, even with modern-day advancements, voice recognition can still perform inaccurately, and even the best software might make more mistakes than you would when typing by hand. This, in turn, requires much tighter proofreading, as dictation software has a tendency to misunderstand words and write in words that sound similar and are grammatically correct. These mistakes aren’t marked as typos (i.e. “world” might me misheard and written as “word”), which means that part of the load of work saved by using the software in the first place returns with a vengeance in the editing phase.

Some dictation software might have compatibility issues with other tools, including word processors. Back in the day, when I used Dragon Naturally Speaking and Open Office, I had to find and install an older version of the latter, because the former would only type full stops in place of commas. Most software is regularly updated to solve these inconvenient issues, but it can be frustrating when the tools of your trade turn against you.

Dictation software can be, without a doubt, a strong tool for translation, and it will eventually be perfected. For now, and especially when greater accuracy is required, doing things by hand will continue to be the most efficient way to translate.