The Challenges of Voice-Over Translation

A Picture is worth a thousand words, or is it?

VSI - The global service provider for Dubbing, Voice-over and Subtitling servicesAt VSI, the general rule of thumb for translators is to expect the unexpected. There is such contrast in the material we receive from clients that switching between different styles of translation at the drop of a hat becomes second nature to a linguist. In a single day, you could find yourself translating financial results for a major bank, before tackling the subtitles for an Emmy Award-winning TV show. You have to be fast and flexible in your ability to turn around translations, all whilst upholding the level of quality and integrity that VSI is renowned for. Whilst the demands placed upon linguists are great, the work is rewarding beyond measure.

One of the most frequently requested forms of translation, which VSI’s linguists excel at, is voice-over. This can range from off-screen narration and voice replacement to full lip-sync dubbing, each with its own nuances and techniques required to provide a first-class translation. The voice-over translations that we produce are used for recordings, which can take place at any of our studios around the world.

For voice-over translation, timing is key. A successful recording will include a translation that corresponds with the original video. In other words, the localised version will match the pace and delivery of the source language.

In text translation, it’s not an uncommon practice for visual factors to be taken into account, for example, with the inclusion of references to images or graphics. With this style of translation, however, time constraints are not a limiting factor. Instead, the linguist’s aim is to provide a complete translation that conveys the details and subtleties of the text on which it is based. This differs drastically to voice-over translation where the core message, and keeping the voice in time with the on-screen action, is of far more importance than the minute technicalities of the source text.

Voice Adaptation

For voice adaptations, a translator will sometimes condense or rearrange sentences in the written text, making it easier for the voice-over artist to read it within a specific time frame. After all, you do not want them stumbling over a long-winded, tongue twister of a sentence, nor running out of breath by its conclusion!

Have you ever noticed how voice-over artists never seem to breathe on TV? This could be because the sound engineer has painstakingly removed the audible breaths from the final version to make the recording fit within the time constraints. With clever editing, it’s also possible to reduce or extend certain sections of a film to accommodate a longer or shorter voice-over. Yet, this method can be highly time-consuming and expensive for the client, so we usually advise against it.

Lip-Sync Dubbing

Lip-sync dubbing is typically present in scripted, fictional content, such as dramas or comedies, and involves an even more complex form of adaptation in which actors’ voices are replaced with different performers speaking another language. The original dialogue is completely removed from the source text and fully substituted by the translated content. It is therefore essential that the translation, when spoken, matches the movement of the actors’ lips as closely as possible. This kind of translation is highly specialised. A translator will spend years honing their skills in order to master lip-sync adaptation, and it is customary for scripts to undergo several rewrites during the production process.

Working with global brands and media businesses

Whilst we are best known for our international dubbing studios, where we localise content for major broadcasters and VOD platforms, we also work extensively with global brands and media businesses, including PR, corporate communications and advertising agencies. We receive a variety of voice-over translation requests at VSI, but the most popular are for television and online advertisements. Adverts carry their own unique set of challenges for a voice-over translator. Ensuring that the voice-over matches the picture remains important, but extra considerations must also be accounted for.

Brands, and the advertising agencies that represent them, have specific expectations when it comes to the phrases, idioms and tone used in their promotional films. In order to preserve brand integrity for each campaign, a consistent marketing message is delivered across all languages.

To accommodate this, a number of techniques are employed, the most familiar of which is back translation. After a translator has suggested a number of translations for a line, a separate linguist, who has not seen the source text, will translate this back in a literal manner. This provides the client with an impression of how the tagline is being conveyed in the foreign language. VSI is always happy to supply additional translators, but sometimes clients prefer to assign one of their own employees to the task, who is a native speaker of the language being translated into.

Whilst the recording is taking place, it is not unusual for further changes to be made to the translation. This is often to accommodate the delivery style and tone of the voice artist doing the recording. These changes are recommended by the client attending the session, or a language director specifically trained in VO recordings, with a background in translation. Several of VSI’s translators are also experienced language directors.

If changes are made during the recording when the client is not present, VSI will send them a version that follows the script exactly, in addition to an amended file, with a note explaining why the changes were incorporated. Whilst we offer guidance and advice, the final decision always remains with our clients.

Translation software such as SDL Trados Studio is excellent for terminology management and exceeds expectations when it comes to text translation. However, voice-over translation has its challenges. Due to its creative nature, voice-over translation rarely features technical, repetitive and large-volume text, which translation software is most effective at processing. Nevertheless, it is ideal for certain projects, for example, a series of health and safety videos in which viewers are reminded of the necessary protocols to follow, or in the production of voice-overs for the e-learning industry.

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