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Apps to help conversation with deaf children and young people: speech to text

Published Date: 03 Jun 2020

With lockdown restrictions loosening and facemasks becoming the new normal, the use of apps that transcribe a person’s speech in real time are on the rise in the deaf community.

Live transcribe apps convert speech to text and can be useful when other people wear facemasks, making it difficult to lip-read and understand what they are saying. A speech to text app picks up speech closest to the phone or tablet’s microphone and converts it to text displayed on the screen.

We’ve put several apps to the test by reading out the same 25-word long sentence:

‘The accuracy of live transcribe apps in part depends on the clarity of speech, the quality of the microphone, and the level of background noise.'

We judged all apps by looking at their accuracy, but also user-friendliness, cost, if they are ad free, and if they are set up to help with everyday conversations.

We’ve tried lots of speech to text apps including SayHi, Hearing Helper, Dictate, Voice Dictation-Speechy Lite and speech-to-text to dictate notes in Evernote or iOS Notes. Here are our reviews of the three apps that worked best for us. Have you tried any other apps? How do you use different apps to help you communicate?

Otter.ai

iOS, Android | free and paid | 0 mistakes

Otter is an app but can also be run on a desktop or laptop. The free version offers 600 minutes of live transcription a month. For more minutes, there are paid versions.

The accuracy, punctuation, and user friendliness of the app are pretty good, but it’s a pity it cannot be used offline and that it doesn’t have an option to type dialogue which would be useful for deaf children and young people that don’t use their voice.

Features that make this app stand out:

  • Transcripts can be saved and edited. As you need to create an account, transcripts are saved into your account and can be shared with others.
  • Words can be added to vocabulary. We've used this to add jargon and  people’s names which improved the accuracy of the transcript

Verdict: an app with great accuracy, though less aimed at facilitating conversations between a deaf and a hearing person and more at understanding conversations between others.

Live Transcribe (iOS)

iOS | £4.99| 1 mistake

The iOS Live Transcribe app offers the option to quickly switch between typing and speaking, which not only makes it easier for a deaf person to understand a hearing person, but also for the deaf person to make themselves understood. There is no need to create an account.

Apart from a full stop at the end of the sentence, the punctuation isn’t great.

Other features that set this app apart:

  • Offline mode, meaning it can be used in shops or buildings with limited signal.
  • A Flip Screen button, making it easier for the hearing person to see what they are saying before flipping it back for the deaf person to read.
  • A minor downside is that the typing option doesn’t do the same, so unless the deaf person wants to read upside down, the microphone will still be faced away from the hearing person speaking.

Verdict: the offline mode and speak and type options show its potential as an app aimed at facilitating conversations, though its user interface is a bit clunky.

Live Transcribe (Android)
Android | free|2 mistakes
It starts recording as soon as it hears a voice and seems pretty good at prioritising the speaker closest to the phone over people further away. Not much punctuation apart from the full stop at the end of the sentence.

The Android Live Transcribe app is not created by the same developer as the iOS Live Transcribe app, but like the iOS Live Transcribe app this offers the option to type text as well, and no account is needed to use it.

Additional features that set this app apart:

  • Indicates when music is playing on the background or other sound effects such as laughter.
  • Has the option to hide swear words by replacing them with asterisks (***). This is useful when using the app with younger children.

Verdict: a useful app to facilitate conversations. It’s a pity it doesn’t work offline.