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Start a Home-Based Career in Transcription

Featured image by Jirsak

If you have decent language skills in even one language, and you love watching video content, you could start a new home-based career. And if you know more than one language fluently, the possibilities for success expand considerably. Welcome to the profession of transcription, a specialty you can do while watching videos.

Coming to Terms: What Is Transcription?

Literally, the term “transcription” means “writing across” one medium to another. Traditionally, it meant to transcribe audio to text, but video transcription is more popular than audio these days. Transcription services belong to the broader category known as localization, which is the adaptation of content for a local target audience.

Transcription need not involve translation. There is an ongoing market need simply to write down what has been said in a recording. Written content is faster to read and easier to find in searches. Specific uses are many: in legal proceedings, it is standard practice to make a text transcript for the record. The same is true in medical, political, and other sensitive professions. In websites, apps, and other digital media, it is often desirable to transcribe files so the content is more accessible to search engines, a form of SEO. The written word is valued as a less ambiguous and more accessible record of what was said.


Sometimes transcriptionists also translate audio and video. If the source media is in a foreign language and the goal is to make this content accessible beyond that language, it is desirable to translate it to additional languages. Sometimes transcribers do this in two steps: First they make a same-language audio transcription. Then this transcript serves as the basis for a translation of the transcript. This has the benefit of having two transcriptions, one in the source language and another in the target language. These can then be compared for verification.

In other cases, a professional transcriptionist or transcriber (both terms are fine to use) will transcribe and translate simultaneously from the audio or video recording to a foreign language. This approach may save time since the transcriber produces only one transcript. In addition, a transcriptionist with translation abilities can pick up nuances of meaning from the audio or video source material that might otherwise be “lost in transcription.”

Short-Form Transcription: Subtitles and Closed Captions

The legal professions need long-form verbatim transcriptions for depositions and court testimony. Long form transcription is in demand for official records of speeches and public proceedings. Podcast transcription is much in demand, as is academic transcription.

However, a fast-growing use of transcription is the creation of short-form transcriptions for use in videos. There are two basic forms of this kind of transcription: subtitling and closed captioning.

Closed captioning need not involve translation. Closed captioning is for people who have hearing disabilities who are unable to listen to the audio, but who can read what is being said, plus any sound effects. This is also useful in public settings, like airplanes or airports, where audio is turned off on monitors.

Subtitles, by contrast, accompany the audio track. They don’t replace it. They enable a viewer who doesn’t know the language spoken to understand the meaning of what’s being said, without the creative violence of “dubbing,” which involves replacing the actor’s voice with a voice in another language.

The Business of Transcription: Getting Started

Okay, so now you know a bit about what transcription is. How do you get into it as a home-based business?

1. Do an inventory of your language skills.

If you only know one language, then you will want to focus on closed captioning and transcription without translation. You don’t need a high school diploma, a college degree, or a certificate. But you do need strong language skills, free from misspellings and grammatical errors. It helps to be a perfectionist! If you are bilingual, you need to decide in which language you are qualified to transcribe. Few people can translate and transcribe accurately in both language directions, from German to English and from English to German, for example. Do only what you do very well.

2. Do you have the temperament to transcribe?

Not everyone does well as a transcriptionist. You need to be patient and have an ability to concentrate. You need to have an excellent short-term memory, so you can remember exactly what was said, without going back and forth in listening to the recording multiple times. It helps to be a fast typist, so you can keep up with the audio without stopping. Experienced transcriptionists recommend to just keep typing, even with “typos,” then go back and clean them up later.

3. Get to know the available software.

There are plenty of free or low-cost software applications on the market for transcription. Some transcribing tools are dedicated apps. Others are features of word processing or communication software. Even Microsoft Word has a valuable built-in “dictation” feature that lets you listen to audio, repeat it, and have the words appear magically, and usually quite accurately, on your page. PC Magazine provided a survey of audio-to-text applications as well as transcription services. The former can help you in your new profession. The latter may be contractors for your services.

Getting into the Transcription Service Business

The demand for quality transcription services is fast growing. Streamers like Netflix have high standards for transcription, and an ongoing need for production of subtitles and closed captions in multiple languages to keep up with the voracious global appetite for their shows and movies. Netflix works with an approved list of service providers, so getting a transcription contract with a top streamer is something you need to build up to.

The best place to start is to sign up with a gig marketplace like Upwork or There you can post your profile, including tags like “transcription,” “translation,” and the languages you can translate and transcribe. You can set your own rates. It’s best to start low, to build up your reputation, ratings, and positive reviews.

You can search for translation and transcription gigs, posted in their hundreds daily. Or you can wait for the clients to come and invite you to bid. This is also how translation companies and transcription service bureaus find their freelancers. They look for those freelancers with the best ratings and rates, those with top reviews. So the next time you’re watching Netflix, look at how many subtitles are there. Instead of just watching, you could be making money transcribing.