I’ve been dictating my translations almost from the time I started working in the industry. At the agency where I did my first internship, back in the late 1990s, dictation was quite commonplace and there was even a pool of typists standing by waiting for translators to deliver them stacks of mini cassette tapes. Being only an intern, however, I was told to stick to typing my texts, a long and tedious undertaking for someone who never formally learned how to type.
My world shifted when I was hired by Traduction Proteus, founded by a former employee of the above-mentioned agency, and his partner, who insisted that I pick up a dictaphone from day one. Initially, they hired their daughter to transcribe our texts, and then later, as the company grew, an in-office typist.
Once I got over the shyness that someone (the typist, a colleague, the walls) might hear me hemming and hawing—and the awkwardness that comes with “talking to the hand”—I was flying high! My production doubled and even tripled in some cases, depending on the complexity of the text. At a good clip, I could (and still can!) dictate about 100-120 words per minute, averaging about 2,000 words for 20 minutes of tape. On a roll, I can dictate 10,000-15,000 words in a day.
I don’t need to tell fellow translators the benefits of this:
1) Your translation speed and output will increase dramatically, freeing up whole blocks of time for other activities (or more work!), not to mention boosting your bottom line substantially;
2) You will not end up with carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis due to endless typing;
and the main reason why dictation works so well for me…
3) You are forced to read the entire text through while dictating your rough draft.
As translators, we are taught to read a text from start to finish before starting the translation, to get the general gist of the document, identify potential problems, etc. But who does that? I can tell you I most certainly do not read a 20,000-word text from beginning to end before I start translating it.
But dictation forces you to do just that. It effectively kills two birds with one stone: you have read the entire text, and you have a typed rough draft ready to be fine-tuned. For this reason, I cannot extol the virtues of dictation enough.
Over the years, dictation fell somewhat out of fashion (as in, people would look at me like I’d time traveled from the 1970s when I told them I dictated my translations), then made a resurgence with digital recorders and smartphones (enabling typists to work from home, receiving .wav or .mp3 files through cyperspace and returning documents by email), and finally crystallized with the emergence of quality voice recognition software like Dragon Naturally Speaking, which I have recently adopted.
I have been a dictation devotee from the very beginning of my career, and now I find myself at the exciting stage of… training my Dragon! Watch out, I’m on fire!
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