Myeloproliferative neoplasms, platelet hyperactivity and the release of procoagulant granules from megakaryocytes… wait, what?
Our live captioners spend their waking minutes respeaking lectures about the inner workings of thrombotic disorders, through to tutorials on the Ancient Gods. Afternoons might be respeaking a work meeting about department strategy, protocol data units or the intricacies of the latest disability legislation - and it's always amazing how many internal acronyms workplaces have.
For captioners, it can feel like they're chewing a dictionary and spitting out the pages. However their primary focus is that their output is of high quality, so they invest the time to prepare for all eventualities. They'll take any preparation material that the client provides and train it, and if there is no preparation material then they'll use their research skills to attempt to locate it. The time that captioners invest before a session has a noticeable impact on quality.
So, to give you an insight into what this work that captioners do before sessions is we've outlined the very useful, necessary and detailed steps our captioners take to deliver quality captions. Enjoy your peek behind the curtain!
4 things live captioners do to improve quality
1. Research, prepare, prepare, prepare...
Preparing for a sessions often means researching the location, subject content and the name of anyone who may be speaking at an event. Without this preparation, names can be slightly (or totally) wrong and people will be offended – but the captioner can only research so much.
The best asset a captioner can have is preparatory material from a client - be it a list of attendees, topics, specific acronyms. If our captioners know which Ancient Greek gods will be discussed that day then they can save themselves the effort of preparing a much broader list.
Similarly, different cities, regions or countries have their own particular interpretation of language and that’s something captioners have to always consider. If live captioners are doing an Australian event, there is often a ‘Welcome to Country’ which is an Aboriginal welcome from the traditional owners of the land.
With group names such as Erawirung, Adnyamathanha and Bilingara amongst hundreds of others, it helps to prepare those names in advance.
That goes for other countries as well, here’s a guide from one of our Canadian employees that might illuminate how much goes in to captioning non-local content:
Toronto – No-one actually says ‘Toe-ron-toe’. It will sound like some variation on ‘Tahranna’, ‘Chrahna’, ‘Toronno’. So, unless someone mentions Jeff Bridges, they’re not talking about ‘Tron’. ‘Timbits’ are small balls of donut, a ‘double-double’ is a coffee with two creams and two sugars and a torque (tork) is a warm, fuzzy winter hat.
In Australia, everything just gets shorter. An afternoon is an ‘arvo’, a liquor store is a ‘bottle-o’, a sausage is a ‘snag’ and a breakfast is a ‘brekky’ – which is great if you’re talking the same language but a nightmare if you need to caption it.
As good as the voice software is, it certainly doesn’t cover the extensive vernacular of all the far flung areas of the world! A captioner needs to be across the slang, the accent and the idiosyncrasies that make all cultures great – and make sure it is all accurate.
2. Check the pronunciation
Did you know the country Kiribati is actually pronounced ‘Kiribas’? Or that Worcestershire is pronounced ‘Wooster-shire’? How about the rugby player Tom Trbojevic? Captioners need to be across the pronunciation of names, places and objects, and their voice profile for their voice recognition software needs to be trained.
Our captioners need to make sure that the way in which they’re training the word into their dictionary matches the actual pronunciation in the audio. Otherwise every time the subject says ‘Kiribas’ the captioner will need to remember to say ‘Kiribati’ for Kiribas to appear… complicated? Absolutely.
To help with this, captioners often share their prep and expertise on certain topics so that they’re properly prepared for anything coming their way. Any preparatory material like names, places, faces and jargon increases the quality of captions significantly. Even then, things still don't always go to plan.
3. Warming up
Going for a run? You’d stretch. Live captioning? You’d...sing. Like any highly-functioning skill before you perform at your best, it’s best to be prepared. Going into a live captioning session without warming up would be like Usain Bolt rolling out of bed for the 100m, he wouldn’t be performing at his best.
In order to warm up, captioners use a series of trills, sounds, vocal warmups or even sing! It is not uncommon for captioners to use the latest hit song as a warm up, trying to respeak the content accurately in their monotone voice.
Captioners have also been known to sing loudly in the car on the way to work, and it’s not uncommon to hear someone running through some extensive vocal warmups in the kitchen before a session.
The warm up is important, they've got a lot to juggle once they're live.
4. Review, repeat, retrain.
Your session might finish but your captioner certainly isn’t. After every session our captioners will either deliver a transcript raw, or spend the rest of the time (if you’ve requested it) reviewing the transcript to fill in missing content or correcting terms that were misrecognised during the live session.
It doesn’t end there! The captioner then reviews their own output and optimises their voice profile ahead of the next session.
So, how can you help?
The biggest asset for a captioner is preparation. This depends a lot on the written material mentioned above (names, places, jargon), but a lot of that preparation is also helped by things like good audio quality.
Imagine attempting that first sentence, “Myeloproliferative neoplasms, platelet hyperactivity and the release of procoagulant granules from megakaryocytes,” if the person saying it sounded like they were under water.
This can be because the lecturer strays from the microphone, people may be using their mobile phone as an audio source, or there can be a lot of background noise.
Our focus is on service, and our customer relations team will happily guide clients through the audio setup for events and ensure that you, the customer, has not only the optimal audio setup but also the best resulting captions.
The final point is feedback - that's the best way for us to deliver a product that exceeds expectations.