How to Transcribe Audio Recordings for Free (with an iOS Device)

Posted in Accessibility, Tutorials

Dragon Dictation

Well, perhaps it’s not entirely free. I do appreciate that your time is valuable and the following method is not entirely automatic. But it’s pretty darn close! Before we get into the specifics, there are a few small challenges to this method that you should know: 1) you’ll need an iOS device, such as an iPhone or iPad, 2) it takes a bit of manual labor to correct the inevitable minor mistakes, and 3) the dictation app only records up to a minute of audio at a time. It also works best if the recorded voice is cleanly isolated from any other sounds, like background music, ambient noise, or other people talking at the same time.

When This is Needed

From time to time I find the need to transcribe (convert to editable/readable text) an audio recording, such as a podcast or video. It’s definitely good for accessibility reasons, but it’s also a great way to add some new content to a website without really writing anything from scratch. You could always send your recording off to a transcription service—which I highly recommend if your recordings are longer than just a few minutes—but this will surely save you time and budget if you’re short on both, like me. If you’ve got a good transcription method for non-iOS devices, such as an Android smartphone or tablet, please contact me with details and I’ll add a link to this article for an alternate reference.

Get Your Tools Ready

  1. Download and install the Dragon Dictation app on your iOS device.
  2. Open the app and complete the short setup process.
  3. Turn on Location Services if you want the app to auto-detect your language. Alternatively, you can select the language of your audio recording.
  4. In the Settings menu (gears icon), you might want to deselect the Detect End-of-Speech option so that it doesn’t stop the transcription process during short pauses in your recording.

Time for Some Magic

  1. If you haven’t already opened the app, do so now.
  2. Place the iOS device a few inches away from your computer speakers and set your audio volume to a comfortable level (the same as if you were having a conversation nearby).
  3. Tap the red Record button on your iOS device to start the recording.
  4. Start the audio recording on your computer or other playback device.
  5. When the recording has played about a minute of audio (or it’s finished), Pause the computer playback and then tap the big red Done button to stop the recording in the app.
  6. The app will transcribe the audio into editable text. Tap a single word to delete it. Tap-drag across multiple words to Delete them all at once (or the entire passage in order to start over).
  7. Tap the Action icon in the lower right (horizontal line with up arrow icon) to access the menu options. There’s no Save feature, so you’ll need to send it to yourself via email or copy/paste it into the Notes app or similar text editor, then email that to yourself after you’ve completed the next step.
  8. Repeat this process until you’ve transcribed the entire audio recording.

Final Cleanup

Dragon Dictation does an impressive job of transcribing, but it occasionally makes mistakes along the way. You can easily fix them by listening to the original recording and making careful corrections in your favorite text editor. Most audio software allows you to press the Spacebar on your keyboard to Play/Pause an audio recording. I find this technique a lot easier than reaching over and grabbing the mouse each time. I’d definitely recommend emailing it to yourself in order to make these edits on your computer. Making precise edits on a mobile device is tricky at best. The dictation app also neglects to add any punctuation, so you’ll need to add that as well. If you’re creating a live recording, by speaking directly into the dictation app, you can speak the punctuation and it will add it along the way.

There you have it! Admittedly, it’s a time consuming process, but it will definitely get you there in the end—without spending any money on new software! Providing text transcripts of audio and video recordings is a worthwhile pursuit, so stick with it and you’ll get faster each time you try it. It’s been a while since I originally installed the app on my iPhone, so if I’ve missed any details along the way, please don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll make corrections as needed.