Striking the Right Balance Between Human & AI Transcription for Qualitative Research  - Multilingual Connections

Striking the Right Balance Between Human & AI Transcription for Qualitative Research 

Photo of a woman in an office with a laptop on the desk. She is looking at the phone in her hand.
Want to stay connected?

We periodically share news and updates around translation, language and culture. Rest assured we’ll never share your contact information with anyone!


As your organization embarks on a new qualitative research project, you’ll need precise, reliable transcription to glean insights from your focus group, interview or digital forum.  

In particular, qualitative research transcription demands high accuracy because it involves diverse individuals, groups and cultures. In these cases, the cultural and linguistic nuance is often more dynamic than other audio content and requires experienced professionals to get it right. 

Yet, it can be time-consuming for researchers to prepare and analyze transcriptions. As a top audio transcription partner, Multilingual Connections knows how to blend human and AI transcription methods for maximum outcomes – here’s how. 

Human vs. AI Transcription

Speech-to-text technology has come a long way in recent years. AI tools can transcribe long audio/video files within minutes, making them great time-savers. And while the accuracy rate and overall quality doesn’t keep pace with human transcribers, the difference is narrowing. Tests done in 2023 showed that AI has around a 9% word error rate for clear, two-person interviews in English.* This would have been closer to 15% just a few years ago.

But that’s just clear audio in English. While AI can transcribe English, Spanish, and some widely spoken languages fairly well, it still struggles with most languages. Even for languages like Turkish, with around 75 million speakers, AI accuracy is well below the accuracy for similar English audio.

When you add in other factors, like overlapping speech, background noise, and accents, the accuracy rate drops even further. And that caliber just won’t cut it for certain fields where precision is essential. After all, there’s a reason why human transcribers are used in high-stakes environments, such as courthouses and hospitals. 

*source: A Comparison of HIPAA-Compliant Transcription Services for Virtual Psychiatric Interviews

Challenges of AI Transcription

While AI transcription can be used to increase the speed and efficiency of some tasks, organizations have to be aware of its limitations: 

  • The quality of AI transcription doesn’t equal a human.
  • AI transcription struggles to transcribe accents and industry-specific terms.
  • AI transcription can get muddled with a multi-speaker and/or bilingual conversation.
  • AI transcription software isn’t always available for all languages. 
  • AI transcription doesn’t pick up on context, cultural nuance and visual cues.
  • AI transcription doesn’t properly punctuate or format the document.
  • AI transcription software doesn’t always have clear confidentiality and use clauses. 

We tested AI transcription with medium-quality audio in Spanish. It got a lot right – but it also got a lot wrong: incorrect words, poor formatting, and whole portions missing. 

Here’s an example of an egregious error:

  • Audio: So, the same for my daughter, what will she do?
  • AI transcript: If my daughter dies, what am I going to do?

This is a mistake that has serious ramifications, and it’s a mistake that would make a human transcriptionist think twice and check again.

And when you add an AI translation step – think about automated subtitles – you add on another layer of potential errors. Machine translation of a perfectly accurate transcript will contain some errors, and machine translation of an AI-generated transcript is going to have even more.

Blending Human & AI Transcription

Experts in the field of transcription believe that AI won’t ever replace human transcribers. For this reason, it’s vital for organizations to build unique “human-in-the-loop” workflows that leverage the advantages of AI transcription. 

At Multilingual Connections, here are some ways we’re blending human and AI transcription for highly accurate results with a rapid turnover. 

1. Think of AI as Augmenting Humans, Not Replacing Them

Blended workflows are about playing to the strengths of both AI and human transcribers. 

To start, professional transcribers know which tools they trust. We work with our experts to identify which may be best for their language. It’s especially important to understand confidentiality clauses in these tools so that transcription data isn’t inadvertently exposed. 

Most commonly, AI transcription churns out a “rough draft” that a professional can use as a baseline during transcription. From here, the human transcriber ensures accuracy and quality. As a part of this process, they may correct results, add missing strings, format the document and make annotations as needed.

2. Focus on the Value of the Human Touch

Human transcribers are our resident experts. That’s why blended workflows should center on their needs and concerns. 

At Multilingual Connections, we have full confidence in our professionals to know how and when to utilize AI transcription. In cases such as thick accents, bilingual conversations or multi-speaker environments, it may not be worth including AI transcription into the process. This also goes for unavailable languages where human transcribers will need to handle the full process.

We trust our transcription specialists to understand the best use cases for AI, as well as when their expertise needs to be prioritized for the highest quality outcome. 

3. Ensure QA Protocols for Analyzing & Adjusting Processes

Finally, AI is constantly evolving. As your organization leverages a transcription partner, you should ensure that QA protocols are in place. 

Our teams regularly analyze what’s working (and not) with blended workflows, including quality, productivity and pain points. Specifically, we focus on guaranteeing that the qualitative research transcription is capturing cultural nuances and context. 

Ask your preferred transcription partner how they’re incorporating QA into their blended workflows, so you can ensure high accuracy and integrity for your data. 

Trust Us With Your Qualitative Research Transcription Project

At Multilingual Connections, we’re all about elevating the quality, reliability and turnaround time for your qualitative research transcription needs. To achieve the best possible results, we blend human and AI transcription, always centering our professional experts. 

Whether you’re preparing a focus group, survey, interview, digital forum or something else, our transcription specialists are ready to handle your research requirements with the highest possible caliber and cultural nuance. Reach out to Multilingual Connections to learn about our industry expertise and “human-in-the-loop” workflows.

Check Also:


Want to stay connected?

We periodically share news and updates around translation, language and culture. Rest assured we’ll never share your contact information with anyone!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *