Accents, Artificial Intelligence and Humans.

Accents. There are an estimated 30 accents that span the landscape of the United States. Tell me, if we as humans have a hard enough time parsing out the dropped “Rs” in words from a Bostonian (please note we’re a bunch of Bostonians here at ATC), how is Artificial Intelligence (AI) ready and able to do so? It isn’t!

There’s a reason we continue to be used as a human test-case against AI.

Is the adaptability of artificial intelligence’s deep learning modules able to discern all of these accents, colloquialisms, and dialects the same as the adaptability of a human team of transcriptionists? We think not. Who better to transcribe that Bostonian than fellow Bostonians? Who better to comprehend the words and colloquialisms from recordings of oral histories from folks in New Orleans (for instance) than people from New Orleans? We’ve been custom-matching client content to every human transcriptionist for 55 years, and we’ll keep doing so. We guarantee it!

Lastly, I know when I talk to the AI of my phone asking it one question or another, inevitably, it gets something wrong every time. And mind you, I’m somehow one of those Bostonians who no one ever believes is actually a Bostonian. Yet, it still has a hard time understanding me. Go figure.

At the Audio Transcription Center, nothing about our intelligence is artificial!

What did they just say?

One of the great things about studying abroad in St. Petersburg is that the world-famous Hermitage is free for anyone with a student ID.

Kris’ student ID in Russia

All of the guides are fully bilingual in English and Russian, and know every detail about every floor, window, article of clothing, and gift from the Grand Duchy of Wherever in 17XX.

A friend of mine went on an English-language tour and told me this story. The guide was giving the full rundown on a room, when they got to one piece of furniture, which they said “is made of, um, some sh*t.” Without missing a beat, as though nothing had happened, they then moved the tour along.

The group had no idea how to react. What’s going on? The guide’s English is immaculate, they must know what they just said. Was it a joke?

My friend had a hunch, so he looked in his pocket dictionary for самшит – S-A-M-Sh-I-T – which is the Russian word for “boxwood.”

I think about this story a lot at ATC. If I hear a word or name I’m pretty sure I know how to spell, I always Google it anyway just to be safe. If a speaker says something that doesn’t quite add up, I think about the context. Are these database engineers really saying “sequel” a hundred times, or is there some industry jargon/acronym they’re using? (In this case, SQL.)

As the old Russian proverb goes, trust but verify, otherwise you may end up stuck in самшит.


6 English Words Pronounced Differently Around The US and The World

Do you think you have an accent? Most people would say they don’t, but the truth is that everybody in the world has an accent or a mix of accents. That is one of the main reasons why even the “best” voice recognition software still writes “Edwards” instead of “AdWords” or “Lanning page” instead of “Landing page”.

Continue reading “6 English Words Pronounced Differently Around The US and The World”

The Story of “Farakaveh”

The Story of “Farakaveh” - ATC Blog

Excuse me, which way is “Farakaveh”?

Not too long ago, a member of our production team was reviewing a transcript of an oral history interview before sending the completed work back to the client.

While the work was top-notch as usual, there was one word that just didn’t sit quite right with our eagle-eyed (or nitpicky, however you want to phrase it) production-er and he couldn’t bring himself to press “send.”

Instead, he took a few minutes to listen and re-listen to that little blip of audio but kept hearing the same thing the transcriber had: “Farakaveh.”

Eh, good enough… 

While putting the word in brackets with a question mark to indicate it as a guess and sending off the transcript might have been the next acceptable step, he just couldn’t let it go.

So he brought in some outside expertise, someone with a background that might help decipher the accent of the interviewee — a Jewish, rather Russian and very New Yawk elderly woman.  In this case, that “outside expert” happened to be ATC founder and president, Sandy Poritzky.

Bringing in the “Big Kahuna”

While we couldn’t quite get our top exec to sit down and listen to the audio on a pair of headphones (though we admit it is fun to picture that scenario in our minds), we did the next best thing by putting the printed transcript on his desk.  One quick read and Sandy recognized “Farakaveh” pretty much immediately.  It’s a little neighborhood in Queens, NY.  Probably better known as “Far Rockaway.”

The moral of the story?  

Well, it could be that we go the extra mile (yay!).  Or, it could be that we employ fiendishly detail-oriented and extremely cautious people (they’re our heart and soul!).  Or, it could be that sometimes the big boss actually does have all the answers (shudder).  Mostly, we like to think it illustrates another point: Transcription isn’t always just what you *think* you hear.