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Recording and Transcribing Family Conversations on Your Smartphone

With all the holiday gatherings coming up, this is the perfect time of year to get around the table and record your family’s stories. Smartphones have made this easier than ever: turn on a voice record app, set it in the middle of the table, and start asking grandma and grandpa questions about their lives.

Having your loved one’s voice recorded for posterity is wonderful—it’s  amazing to think that one day your grandkids will have the chance to hear your grandfather’s voice! But you can do more with these recordings than just listen to them. You can easily turn them into text, creating a readable, searchable history of your family, and maybe even a book (like Attorney David Edwardsgrandfather did).

Two Benefits of Turning Audio into Text

Readable: When you have hours of recordings from several loved ones, it can be daunting and time-consuming to listen to all of it. Converting their words to text, allows you to read through it much faster (2-3x as fast, depending on how fast you read), and you can skim through it even faster than that.

Searchable: Many transcription apps allow you to search transcribed text. So if you remembered a story that grandpa told about being in Paris, you won’t need to dig through hours of recordings.You can search the text for “Paris” and you’ll see every spot where that word is mentioned. You can also copy and paste the transcriptions into Microsoft Word or Google Docs and do the same type of search.

How to Turn Your Recordings into Text

Transcribe Live. With this option your words will turn to text as you speak. You can do this for free on your iPhone and Android. The downside is the accuracy is mediocre, especially with several different speakers. And these options won’t save your audio, just the text.

  • For iPhones: open Notes, start a new Note, press the little microphone button, and you’re good to go. If you don’t see the microphone, turn on your Dictation setting under General Settings, Keyboard.
  • For Android phones: download the Google Docs app, open it, and press the microphone button.

Transcribe in an App. Transcription apps do it all: record your audio, transcribe it, and allow you to search and share the text. With lots of options available, I’ll only highlight the best apps on the market.

  • Otter (iPhone & Android) is free to download and will transcribe up to 600 minutes of recording for free each month. It transcribes live as you speak and is more accurate than the free options mentioned above. Otter also saves your audio and offers unlimited storage.
  • Rev (iPhone & Android) is the best of the best. The app is free to download and it’s free to record. Transcribing your recordings costs $1 per minute. So if you’ve got 10 minutes it’s $10. Rev is 99% accurate and transcription is done by humans, so you’ll get excellent punctuation and paragraphs.

Transcribe Old Recordings. You can import old recordings—from your iPhone Voice Memos or an Android app or any type of file on your computer—into Otter and Rev and they’ll transcribe it. Even if you have cassettes or CDs, you can turn them into a digital file (lots of online services will help you with this) and upload them into Rev or Otter.

Transcribe Phone Calls. I love this option because even though you may not get a lot of face-to-face time with your loved ones, you can still record your conversations and transcribe them.

  • Smart Record (iPhone only) will record your calls, then transcribe them. They charge $4.99/week or $9.99/month for call recording (you can cancel any time). You can then transcribe those recordings via machines (for $0.12/minute) or humans (for $1/minute).
  • Rev (iPhone & Android) lets you record calls for free and you can then pay to transcribe them ($1/minute). You could also download one of the many call recording apps, then upload your files into Otter for free transcription.

These apps and options might take a little time to learn, but it’s a worthwhile investment. Turning your conversations into text opens all kinds of options for preserving your non-financial legacy. Happy transcribing!