Global Lingo Blog

The joy of transcription

It’s an interesting quirk of human nature that many people define themselves by what they do.  ‘I am a doctor,’ we say, rather than, ‘I heal people.’ Or, ‘I am a night-soil man,’ rather than, ‘I cart about other people’s waste for a living.’ In most cases, it’s pretty clear and unambiguous what it means to belong to a profession, and there is a wonderful comradeship in being something rather than merely doing something.

Since starting at Global Lingo nearly two months ago, I’ve experienced the novelty of being able to say, ‘I am a Corporate Writer.’ However, unlike the aforementioned noble and ancient trades of doctoring and septic tank emptying, nobody really seems to be clear on what a Corporate Writer does – or, should I say, is.

I find attempting to explain myself a little bewildering and strange, therefore, because while I can clarify that I am primarily a transcriptionist and minute-taker, these in themselves are not the most perfectly descriptive of terms. While I am a linguist, and therefore like ambiguity more than most people, I also have a great appreciation for language’s capacity for precision and exactitude.

This really comes to the point of the matter: once I have clarified that I ‘do transcription’ for those who aren’t familiar with the wonderful world of corporate writing, I’m often called upon to define what transcription is.  The literal definition is simple: ‘the conversion of live or recorded speech to text’ (or, as I prefer to say, ‘writing down what people say’). However, this simple definition is only skin deep, like describing engineering as ‘putting stuff together’.

You see, transcription is not simple.  ‘Writing down what people say’ sounds so fundamentally basic a task that a monkey at a typewriter could do it (provided he was first taught to comprehend English).  The truth is, though, that transcription is a complex and noble task, which requires such attention to detail and facility with English that a team of trained professionals – such as those in Global Lingo’s English Writing department – are absolutely essential.

The level of specialisation and professional know-how is readily apparent on stepping into our office, where you will be greeted not only by the sound of nine frantically tapping keyboards, but most likely also a heated discussion on hyphenation or the relative merits of Roman and Arabic numerals for various purposes.  In the background someone will be, more quietly, researching pet shops in Ouagadougou, or agonising over the precise placement of a full stop.

Although this would not appeal to everyone, for some there is an undeniable joy in all this attention to detail, and not only from the point of view of academic interest and friendly banter. There is also a certain amount of pride in the dedication and care taken to ensure that each document returned to a client is just right: an accurate, consistent, detailed and near-perfect record of what has been said.

Don’t get me wrong: the effort of explaining all this is not always appreciated, and passion about punctuation – which can seem trivial – is easily mocked. In answer to the question, ‘But what do you do?’ I have been known to play on the highly confidential nature of some of our work instead: ‘If I told you, I’d have to kill you.’

But at the end of the day, I am immensely proud to say I am a Corporate Writer. Because even if I am unable to articulate all the subtleties and challenges of the job, and make people understand the fun you can have with them, I can say at the end of the day that I am passionate about what I do – and that makes us the best people for the job.

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