Because I’m not a naturally gifted proofreader, I’m always looking for new and helpful proofreading tools. I have proofreading issues:
- I read too fast, and start skimming
- I don’t enjoy proofreading, so I put it off
- Because I’m not naturally gifted at this task, I fear that I’m missing things in the text, and I go over and over (and over and over) it to an extent that is not helpful
In a previous post, I wrote about PerfectIt, an add-on for Microsoft Word. I’m still using PerfectIt, and I find it useful; it’s more of a consistency-enforcer than anything else (when you intersperse grey with gray, like-minded with like minded, Chief Executive with Chief executive, and so on), but it always catches more of those errors than I do.
After hearing several other translators rave about text-to-speech proofreading, I decided to give it a try. Simply put, this involves having your computer read your translation back to you. There are various pieces of software that can do this, but if you have a recent version of Microsoft Word, it’s built in. In Office 365, just click the Review tab, then you’ll see a huge letter A (like the big E on the eye chart) with some sound waves bouncing off it, with the button text “Read Aloud.” That’s what you want. Just click it, and the robo-narrator will pick up where your cursor is, and start reading your translation to you.
Once the narrator–in my version of Word, this is Microsoft David Desktop–starts reading, you can adjust the speed to your preferred pace. David’s default pace is about 150 words a minute. So if you want him to read you a day’s worth of work–say 2,000-3,000 words, that would take about half an hour if you never paused him. Of course you do pause–that’s the whole idea–but the point is that this is a doable investment of time. And David…what can I say about David? I wouldn’t want to listen to him read an audio book, but he’s not cringe-worthy to listen to. Which is probably good; he won’t lull you to sleep, but he’s easy enough to understand.
So far, I’ve uncovered a few benefits of text to speech proofreading:
- Most helpfully, it amplifies (literally) errors that my eyes would probably skim over, but that my ears catch right away. Things like “The employees were direct (instead of “directed”) to keep a log of their activities,” or “There are many guides and reference book (instead of “books”),” or “The Word (instead of “World”) Bank,” and so on.
- It forces you to slow down to the narrator’s pace. As mentioned above, I have a big problem with skimming. Even if I use the gold-standard proofreading method–printing the thing out and going through it line by line with a ruler–I still have issues with reading too fast. But with Dear David, I can’t do that. He just chugs along doing his HAL-esque thing, so I slow down to his pace.
- You can look at the source document while David reads the target. Let’s say you have a series of numbers in the text: “In 2016, the project distributed 3,284 boxes of candy. In 2017, this rose 18.52%, and in 2018, it is expected that candy distribution could reach 5,659 boxes.” If you’re proofreading that on paper or on the screen, you have to constantly glance back and forth: was that 5,659 boxes, or 5,596, for example. But while David reads what you typed, you can watch the source document to see if the figures match up. Big win!
- One caveat: obviously this technique doesn’t help with homophone errors: you’re/your, it’s/its, etc. And–for me at least–those types of errors are getting harder and harder to catch, because we’re exposed to them all the time. A little part of me died when I read “You’re brother” in the New York Times Magazine. That’s a story for a different day, but something to consider.
I’m now a fan of this technique; readers, any thoughts on it?