4 things to know about multilingual voiceover and subtitling

4 things to know about multilingual voiceover and subtitling

4 things to know about multilingual voiceover and subtitling
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It can be challenging to convey meaning and intent when localizing your multimedia content. If it weren’t, Google Translate would be sufficient to meet every translation need. Either that or Ford Prefect’s internal ear-translator, a babel fish, from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now that would be cool.

With a babel fish out of reach, many companies rely on machine translation to quickly address their translation (MT) needs. However, MT isn’t equipped to understand subtleties, humor, and cultural nuance. The fact is, multimedia localization requires expertise beyond an online dictionary, online translation algorithm, or a multilingual ear-fish. Quality translation requires input from a native speaker – ensuring intent is correctly conveyed and cultural nuance is taken into account.

With any translation project, linguists strive for accuracy, readability, and consistency. But they also strive to create content that relates. With multimedia content, even seemingly minor errors in voiceover or subtitle translation, or inattention to cultural nuance, can cause confusion for global audiences – and cause your content to flop.

The Korean translation of Avengers: Infinity War contained so many translation errors that fans created a petition to fire the translator. The iconic line delivered by Doctor Strange, “We’re in the endgame now” – which sets up the title for the next movie Avengers: Endgame – was translated to something with an entirely different meaning.

Doctor Strange's key line mistranslated in Korean

“When we went to Korea to promote this movie, the representatives from Disney there came up to us and said, ‘There’s something we need to tell you. In the translation of Infinity War here in Korea, when Doctor Strange says to Tony, ‘We’re in the endgame now,’ the way we translated that here was ‘no hope,’’’ Anthony Russo explained. “In Korea, is this movie called Avengers: No Hope? Because that’s not gonna do well.”

Avenger’s Infinity War and Endgame directors, Joe and Anthony Russo

But even the best-presented content can get tangled up in an unending translation revision process due to technical problems. For example, graphics built to support text in English may not work for a translation where subtitles may require more space. Matching translated captions to the length of dialogue delivery can be difficult as well. Similarly, voiceovers may not sync to the video when the transcreated dialogue is longer than the original actor’s mouth movements.

Speed bumps like these can cause turnaround delays that increase costs and reduce your department’s efficiency. 

Here are 4 tips to get your multilingual project off on the right foot:

keep it short

1. Keep it short – the rule of 35%

Generally speaking, English is one of the more succinctly written languages in the world. One rule of thumb is to assume a 35% expansion when writing anything in English that is destined for translation. 

Given that, it’s important to be mindful of potential space issues. There is nothing that will remove a video’s credibility quite like a sloppy image on screen. Keep future subtitles in mind when writing a script and provide enough room on a graphic during post-production. That way translators will have the space they need to convey your message accurately.

In short, plenty of white space = a good night’s sleep for all involved.

be aware of cultural context

2. Be aware of cultural context – the rule of context is key  

Before crafting the first draft, reflect on the relevance of the content. Are the situations, words, or examples hyper local? Would another audience that lives in a different setting and speaks another language be able to understand it?

Let’s say you’re a company producing eLearning content for a worldwide workforce. You’ve perfected the content for your English speaking audience, but as your company grows and diversifies, your content needs to do the same. To inspire your team, you’ve included multiple sports references to help drive your point home. 

If directly translated and subtitled, phrases like, “keep your eye on the ball” and “down to the wire” could cause major confusion with your new audience. 

You can still be creative when communicating ideas to your audience, but choosing content that’s easy to replicate in other languages and cultural contexts can help streamline the translation process 

be cognizant of what your budget can or can't do

3. Be cognizant of what your budget can and can’t do – the rule of CliffsNotes

More text = more time. Longer monologues or multiple voice actors extends the amount of work that needs to be done. No matter how talented your multimedia localization service team is, if you have a CliffsNotes budget, you aren’t going to get a full translation of War and Peace.

When budgets or timelines are tight, consider simplifying your content. This could mean shortening text or condensing to a single actor/narrator. The difference between dubbing or subtitling a video with multiple cast members is much more complex – and therefore more costly – than a single speaker. 

Our project managers work with clients to understand their timeframe, goals, and budget for their multimedia localization projects. With that foundation, they are able to create a custom solution to fit the boundaries of your unique project. 

make it easy for your audience

4. Make it easy for your audience to enjoy your stuff – the rule of accessibility

Many multilingual video projects require added features like audio descriptions, subtitles, and captions to make video projects accessible to all audience members. Even if specific audience parameters aren’t an issue, it is still a good idea to consider these options.

Some planning while you craft the production script will cut down on the need for revisions in post-production. Plus, knowing which multimedia translation services you need lets you hit the ground running and extends your budget.

Streamline workflow while producing high-quality translations and kick headaches to the curb!

Translating subtitles or producing multilingual voice over that is culturally relevant, localized, and seamless doesn’t need to cause sleepless nights or headaches. Your project can deliver high-quality content within budget and localized to various contexts and audiences. A project’s success is based on its preparation with your timeframe, goals, and budget in mind.

We love producing high-caliber multilingual translations for our clients. With our proven translation process, we create language solutions tailored to your unique needs. Learn more about our multimedia localization services here!


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!