Aydin Adelson makes transcribing fun and constructive
Transcribing audio is one of the most effective techniques in language teaching, improving both listening and writing skills. A couple of months ago, I was asked to prepare a presentation on how to teach a transcription lesson. One of my colleagues, who was sitting next to me, said that he would ask students to listen to the audio and write it down, easy-peasy, as simple as that. He believes that the best way is to approach teaching transcription directly and not to waste time on this boring part of the curriculum. I believe otherwise—transcription classes can be fun and constructive.
Utilizing the transcription techniques described in this article depends on various factors, such as the number of students, the level of the students, and the time you have. You need to manage your class based on such factors to prevent time-management issues.
These techniques are most helpful for learners with basic and intermediate skills. Before even going to the audio file, students need to be prepared. Help students understand the topic of the audio beforehand, especially if it is cultural and outside of the scope of the learner’s own culture. You do not want to spoil all the information on the audio, but a short explanation showing some pictures or a short video related to the topic might be helpful. Sometimes you need to break down the topic if your audience is entirely unfamiliar with the subject.
To avoid learners becoming bored and losing their attention, you should not be the sole speaker. You can come up with some techniques to add a little spice to the preparation stage. For example, prepare the keywords and come up with related questions: Who knows about these words? What do you know about this subject?
Alternatively, ask students to research the keywords. With more advanced students, you can even ask them to research in the target language. If you have time, you can ask the students to share their findings with the class so the research also helps with speaking skills.
This is the stage when students are going to use the keywords they learned and their own knowledge of the language and subject, making a connection between them.
If you have time, listen to the audio together once and ask them what keywords they heard. Let them collaborate on making a list.
Then, ask them to listen to the audio individually once and be prepared to give the gist of it. At the primary level, you can ask students to differentiate how many speakers were talking on the audio. They do not need to write it down yet, but they should be able to discuss the gist of the audio and possibly the positions of the speakers on the subject.
Before asking students to write down the whole passage, ask them to write down the keywords. This can be integrated into the initial listening stage.
Ask them to listen one more time and to write down the whole text. Depending on the curriculum goal, you can take this stage beyond just writing the text. Ask students to write the gist of the sentences that they hear. Alternatively, you can build written text layer upon layer. First, ask students to write down anything they hear. They will end up with some or many words that do not have much meaning. These are called filler words, such as well, like, you know, seriously, I mean, you know what I mean?, believe me, etc.
Often when people speak, they use a lot of these filler words, and they do it unknowingly and unwillingly. Additionally, there are sounds such as umm, hmm, um, er, mhm, uh, uhuh, also considered filler words. Ask the students to write down these words and help them to find the equivalents for them in the target language.
Additionally, there are emotional indications such as deep breathing, giggling, chuckling, or hysterical laughter. Some people raise or drop their tone to show their emotions; others leave a pause to create drama or to put stress on a specific word. Some repeat the same word two or three times to emphasize the idea.
You can ask students to write down these emotional actions in brackets. In this kind of transcription, students are not required to correct the grammatical problems of the speaker or clean up their unfinished thoughts.
Moreover, when people speak, they bend grammar rules to avoid pauses, or because they are speaking quickly they do not follow the grammar rules. Students can point out these mistakes and errors on transcription.
As another exercise, you can ask the students to clean up the transcription. They can clean up filler words, correct grammatical errors, and if needed, edit the language but keep the meaning. Ask students to edit unfinished sentences or omit the unfinished thoughts of the speaker. This is the highest level of transcription work, as the transcriber is not just transcribing but taking editing responsibilities for the audio. This approach is called a clean verbatim transcription. This technique would be an excellent exercise for your students to play with a native speaker’s sentences and clean them up. They would learn how people talk in real life.
Proofread the Transcript
Now that your students have written down the transcription based on what you asked them, you can move to a new stage and check the transcript and correct the errors they made. Again depending on the class time and student level, you can give them a copy of the transcription and ask them to find and fix their own errors. Or, if you have a SMART Board, you can put the transcription on the screen and let them check the spelling.
Alternatively, before showing the transcription, you can have them collaborate and check their writing with their peers first. Then the transcription would be shown or given to them.
You also can take time with each student, check and correct their spelling errors one by one, and help them understand the roots of their errors.
The text is ready, but it is in the target language. If your students are being prepared to assume translator positions, they need to convert the text into their own languages.
Maybe you can break this stage down as well. First, ask the students to translate the keywords. Then, ask them to translate the passage and provide the gist. Ask them to provide a clean translation or translate the whole text as it appears in the full verbatim transcript.
The translation needs to match the transcript. Ask students to check their translations with their peers. Show the translation on the screen so they can compare it with what they have already done. Alternatively, work with them one by one, and go to the roots of their errors so they fully understand the mistakes they made and how to correct them.
- “Getting It Right: The Art of Verbatim Transcription,”
- “Verbatim vs. Non-verbatim Transcription: What Is the Difference?”
- “GoTranscript Transcription Guidelines,”
Aydin Adelson is a world language instructor in Augusta, Georgia.