OpenSpeaks is an open toolkit for language archivists to learn about digitally-documenting first languages. This four-module toolkit designed keeping beginner/intermediate-level archivists who are working on building digital archives for any language though the focus has been on underrepresented communities and indigenous languages. One needs to have some basic understanding of audio-visual documentations to begin with this toolkit.
Module 1: Basics of audio-visual recording
An overview of what are aimed from the recording process and how to go about it.
- Be honest and ask your interviewee to be honest
Language is a very sensitive element of a society. When any known/unknown mistakes like mispronunciations get recorded and shared publicly, native speakers might take an offense. So, please check with your interviewee to ensure that you document any unintended mistakes in the description part of the video/audio while publishing. You might not always be able to delete portions of such unintended mistakes but you can always admit that there is any unintended mistake that got recorded. Similarly, if the interviewee is not a native speaker and is trying to learn a language, you should mention clearly about that. The real native speakers will welcome such honesty.
- Imagine yourself out in the field interviewing someone speaking a language that you don't probably understand
Think of the challenges that you might face—the loss in translation, the lack of your understanding of their cultural/linguistics nuances. Are you going to use a language that is mutually intelligible by you both or get the questions translated or just have a translator along with you to assist?
- Plan in advance and practice well
Planning for a documentation starts with knowing your interviewee(s) well. Do some research about their language, culture, and may be a few most used phrases in their language that you can say to amaze them while interviewing them. People generally appreciate when someone alien makes an effort to speak in their language. Use a spreadsheet or even an app to have a rough and agile plan. Things might change while interviewing and you need to be prepared for the same. Also, have a plan B in case anything fails. If you're someone who gets a cold feet while meeting a stranger, write down and practice your questions with a friend/family member or in front of a mirror.
- Know your hardware and software
As you are going to rely on your recording equipment and software (you will learn about them in the next module), it's important that you know well about them. But how well is well? Well, as long as you know the ins and outs of your gears and some troubleshoot in case of emergency. For instance, if you're planning to use your phone for the audio and video recording, check what apps are best for your workflow. It's advisable to use apps (e.g. Filmic Pro for iOS devices) that show the audio levels on screen while recording so you know for sure that the audio is indeed being recorded.
- Keep a notebook/note-taking app to capture some important data
Physical/digital note-taking while recording always helps during post-production. Also, you need to capture some metadata (more in Module 3) for which you can use the note or use a printed template. But please keep in mind that the noise you might make while writing might get recorded so choose your pen carefully.
- Ensure you get to record in a quiet place
The most challenging aspect of any recording in a quiet place for clean audio and and well-lit place for good quality video. Check below to know what to avoid:
|Noise sources||Possible solutions|
|Ambient noise (Audio)||
|LED and other home electric lights (Video)||Most home lights, when captured in a camera, look flickering and disturbing. When you'll learn more about the solution for such issues in the next module, avoid home lighting and use lights that are recommended (more here) for filing if you can afford. Alternatively, if you're filming during the day, you can sit close to a window with the subject's face lit with the natural lighting.|
- Friendliness and empathy: The best emotion is captured when your interviewee trusts you the most. Try to be empathetic and friendly, relate to them in a human level and keep a check on their comfort level. They would open up to share something that they care about only when they think they can trust you. Trust is built over time. How do you bring it in a short interview?
- Ice braker questions: You can always ask some trivial ice-breaking questions in the beginning and slowly move towards asking more personal questions.
- Body language: In a physical interview, your body language matters much more than a telephonic or voice/video call. Positive body posture can entirely set the mood of the subject. So a thumb rule is be a good listener and show curiosity to learn from the interviewee. But when you're interviewing someone speaking a endangered language that is alien to you, you still can start with the same body posture. Even though you won't understand the vocabulary, being empathetic and trying to relate by observing the interview's emotional flow. You could reflect that by the right kind of camera moves.
- Motion is emotion: Documenting a language is not just about placing a camera on a tripod and interview someone though that's a good starting point. But you need to capture the life of someone on the camera if you're capturing them saying about their life. If a picture means a thousand words, a video means a million! So, take some ample amount of time to shoot some b-rolls. For instance, if your interviewee has narrated about a bedtime story during the interview, capture some relevant shots—like kids sitting around an old person, or parents with kids. B-rolls are generally short so shoot really tiny videos (30 seconds - 1 minute max.) and cover a wider range of areas because you never know where you can use them. You can use the b-rolls as cut shots.
Module 2. Hardware and software for recording, and recording process
a. Audio recording
- Home studio: If you're recording at home, try to create a minimal setup You need a microphone to be able to record the audio. If you can, I would suggest to record in a small home studio setup like the picture above (consists of a USB microphone, a computer, and a monitor headphone).
- Field recording with a recorder or phone: The recording setup will largely vary if you are meeting someone outside your home for a field recording. In that case you will need to carry an audio recorder or a smartphone (some sort of recording app installed in it) with earphones. If you’re using a portable recorder make sure you cover the top of the mic with a soft cotton cloth or fake fur to a) avoid dust going inside, and b) the sound of the wind during outdoor recording. Use a rubber band to tighten the base and never touch the cloth/fur while recording. Mics can capture small little movements and completely distort the audio.
- Recording from phone: Earphones that come with the phones generally work both for phones and computers as compared to the default microphone provided along with . However, avoid sitting in an open space as there is a high probability of a lot of noise being captured unless if you are using a shotgun microphone.
- Audio editing software: If editing from a computer, Audacity, a free and open source audio editing software is the first choice for many seasoned recording artists. It is robust, easy to use and can be used in multiple platforms. If you are using your phone or tablet to record and edit the audio, then, use your native recording app or try to find a good free alternative in your respective app store. Ideally the recording/editing app should be allowing you to record in a decent lossless quality (minimum requirement is 44100 Hz, above 16 bit PCM i.e. 24 or 32 bit, above 220 kbps; check your settings to find these). Save the audio in .WAV or .FLAC (Audacity supports both). If your recorder/phone does not support these formats, try to use an app/online converter like this (MP3→FLAC or M4A→FLAC) to convert the audio into .FLAC.
b. Video recording
- Which camera to use
Frankly speaking, the video is less important here as compared to the audio. With low quality video, viewers would still be able to manage if the audio is loud and clear. So if you are keen on investing, invest on a good quality microphone that can either be connected with the camera or can be used as a secondary recorder. But do not trust your camera’s default microphone. They can literally jeopardize your hard work. As far as the camera goes, you can literally use any camera that allows you to record in a decent quality i.e. above 720p (1280×720 px)—from your phone to a point and shoot camera to a dSLR.
a) Using a camera: Use a shotgun microphone that can be connected directly into your camera so that you don’t need to invest much on audio syncing during post production.
b) Using a phone for recording video: These days most phones come with high quality hardware that are capable of recording good video. But the real key to recording quality video in a phone lies in stabilizing the shot while recording. You can only do that by investing in a small tripod (they are generally really cheap and do the job) that can hold your phone. For this particular project, tripods will be the best.
How to edit the videos: You need to compress the video using a free software like Handbrake, and upload that into YouTube or something similar without making it public. We will download it and ask you to delete so that you don’t have to worry about the amount of space it will take in your hard drive.
Module 3. Curating and publishing metadata
Annotation, subtitling of audio/video, translation of transcription and other content
Annotation is the process of collecting certain metadata that are not necessarily transcriptions. Audio/video content will surely need subtitles in largely spoken languages like English for a wider coverage. Amara is an Open Source video subtitling platform (learn how to use it from here). YouTube also allows video subtitling and Closed Captioning. Transcriptions are generally created to have a verbatim version of the interview. Ideally, you need to work post-interview with a native speaker to create the transcription to ensure there is no loss of information in the process. However, transcription is not a easily digestible. So you need to create summaries for each section of the interview which will capture the highlights and sometimes details (for instance a game play or story).
- Curating metadata
Collecting metadata is a very crucial part of the documentation process. When you document something in a less-known language and publish it online, you also need to share some of the most vital information about the documentation. See a sample below that is taken from our Karbi-language documentation page.