Does Language Impact Transcription?

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Language is an amazing thing. It can communicate anything and everything, from the simplest concepts to the most complex ideas imaginable, helping people from all walks of life meet at a common understanding.

But knowing the words of a language isn’t the same as truly understanding it. There are a lot of things that go into building a language, and the building blocks can look different depending on where in the country you are. Just ask a Northerner and a Southerner what they call a bread roll! Idiomatic speech, regional dialect, slang and subtle differences in meaning will flow easily for native speakers, but when your transcriber is working in their second or third language, a lot of that nuance is lost.

So in order to get an accurate transcription, you need to have a native speaker transcribing it. Here’s why.

Idioms & Slang

The English language is full of funny little sayings. Things like, ‘I’m chuffed to bits!’, ‘Beat around the bush’, ‘Call it a day’ and ‘Hang in there’ are all phrases native speakers are very used to hearing and understand the meaning behind them. But this is not the case for non-native speakers. They would hear these phrases and get confused, not understand the meaning, and potentially transcribe those incorrectly or not at all as a result. Even some of our everyday business speak has been influenced by baseball – ‘Cover all the bases’ and ‘Ballpark figure’ – which would baffle a transcriber with English as a second language and no knowledge of the sport. This can lead to mistakes or gaps in your transcript that didn’t need to be there.

Having a native transcriber also helps you to avoid making big blunders. Even larger brands have fallen into the trap of direct and unconsidered transcriptions from non-native speakers, which were then used in translations and sometimes unwittingly causing offence or hilarity. KFC famously tried to translate their slogan ‘Finger lickin’ good’ into Mandarin, but ended up with a sentence that read, ‘Eat your fingers off’, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!


If you live in the UK, you know that there isn’t really such a thing as an ‘English’ accent. Our country is made up of hundreds of different accents and over 40 different dialects, and these can present a challenge to someone who isn’t a fluent native speaker. Meaning can be lost, words completely misheard, colloquialisms confused and intent changed completely. All of which is detrimental to having an accurate transcript! The same goes for any language – regional accents and dialects will impact the context and understandability of what is being said, and so you need someone native to understand the subtleties of the language and transcribe it accurately.


One thing many businesses forget about when they’re looking to outsource their transcription is the actual time it takes. If you’re working to a deadline, or you want to access fair prices, then finding a native speaker is always going to be your best bet. This is simply because if the person transcribing isn’t fluent or it isn’t their first language, they will need to listen to the audio multiple times before they can understand and transcribe it correctly. This can mean a piece of audio that’s just ten-minutes long could take them an hour to transcribe for you, which will then be passed on in the cost to you as well as in the time it takes to receive the transcription.

Of course, non-native speakers can be incredibly successful in the transcription industry, but it takes several years of dedicated study, language immersion and practice. If you’re working in a particularly sensitive field or you need 100% accuracy for your transcription, then we would always recommend finding a native transcription service. At McGowan Transcriptions, we work closely with businesses to produce accurate, polished transcripts that meet your needs, every time. If you would like to know more, just get in touch with the team today.