One of the common symptoms of Chiari Malformation (my brain condition) is that people may develop hearing loss/hearing impairment in addition to vision loss/vision impairment. While my hearing loss isn’t as extreme as my vision impairment, it definitely can have an impact on how well I can hear conversations in busy places or follow along in my college classes if there is lots of background noise. One of the tools that has helped me tremendously is the free Google Live Transcribe app, as it was designed not just for hearing loss, but for low vision as well. Here is my review of the Google Live Transcribe app and how I use it on my Android phone.
What is Google Live Transcribe?
Google Live Transcribe is a free Android app that provides real-time captions and is powered by Google’s speech recognition technology. While it is designed for users that are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing, it can also be beneficial for people who are experiencing temporary hearing loss due to an ear infection or that are in a room with lots of background noise. Google Live Transcribe can be downloaded from the Play Store, and I recommend having it in an easy-to-locate area on the phone home screen for quick access- I personally use a custom gesture shortcut to activate the app at a moment’s notice.
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How it works
After opening up the Google Live Transcribe app and ensuring there is an internet connection (either wifi or data is fine), users will be taken to a screen where captions with high accuracy will appear in real time and be included in a transcript. Users can scroll back in the transcript to see what was previously said, copy and paste text from the transcript to other screens such as a notes app, or just watch the screen as text appears in real time. Transcriptions will disappear after the user closes the app, unless they have “Save this transcription” turned on, though the transcript will still disappear from the app after three days.
One of the things that I wish I had known before the first time I used Google Live Transcribe is that it uses a lot of battery. I recommend bringing a phone charger or portable battery if the app will be used for more than a couple of hours continuously.
Different settings that are available
Users can customize Google Live Transcribe in several different ways. Here are the settings that are available within the app, as well as my own personal settings, which can be accessed by tapping the “settings” button in the lower left-hand corner of the app:
- Text size- system font is default, though it can be increased higher if needed
- Save this transcription- save transcriptions for 3 days before they are deleted, I have this turned off
- Dark theme- I have global dark mode so this is turned on by default
- Microphone- use an external microphone if desired, I just use the built-in one
- Primary/secondary language- mine is set to English and I change the secondary language depending on who I am talking to
- Vibrate when speech resumes after pause, so if someone hasn’t been speaking the user can be alerted to when they resume talking- I have this turned on
- Show sound labels such as laughter/ applause, etc- I have this turned on
- Hide profanity, which will write swear words with their first letter and have the rest of the letters replaced with asterisks- I have this turned on
- Show hold button to pause transcription and then resume- I have this turned on
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What gets captioned
Typically, the captions in Google Live Transcribe will display the following information, depending on what settings are enabled:
- Spoken words from someone who is speaking loudly or within close proximity
- Background sounds such as laughter
- Music/lyrics from loud music or music within close proximity
- Spoken words in a language other than the default language- more on that later
Google Live Transcribe for low vision
When I was looking at other real time captioning apps, I noticed that a lot of them didn’t support large text or recognize my system’s font size. This was not an issue with Google Live Transcribe, as the default system font is used and can even be made larger if needed in the settings options- mine is the equivalent of size 48 point font.
Another feature I like about the Google Live Transcribe app is the support for dark mode, as I have dark mode enabled on my phone due to photosensitivity. Dark mode pairs very well with the high-contrast text option within Android accessibility settings that I have turned on at all times.
While this isn’t a setting within the app, students with low vision may benefit from using Google Live Transcribe as a way to support taking notes in class, as they can copy the transcripts into another app, though the captions may not be 100% accurate for technical terms, acronyms, or similar information.
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Using Google Live Transcribe in other languages
While it does not serve as a translator, Google Live Transcribe is compatible for over 70 languages. Languages are automatically detected within the app, though users can also choose to set a secondary language if they frequently hear audio in another language. I have tested this app with Spanish and French and received highly accurate captions, though I am not sure of the accuracy for other languages.
What I use it for
Some of the different ways and places that I have used Google Live Transcribe include:
- Following along with lectures in my college classes
- Helping a student who had a quiet voice that was difficult to hear
- Captioning a phone call on speaker phone
- Listening to friends talk in a language that I am learning so I can practice recognizing words
- Talking to people in an area with lots of background noise or static, which was helpful at a political event I attended
The Google Live Transcribe app has helped me tremendously in my college classes and allowed me to take better notes since I can understand what my professors are saying more clearly. While this app is not a replacement for professional captioning or sign language, I highly recommend downloading Google Live Transcribe as it is a fantastic tool for short-term captioning needs and can easily be used by people who have low vision or trouble reading small text.