To dub or not to dub? Different approaches to audio-visual translation

As a Spanish linguist and a huge fan of world cinema, I was thrilled to see that the latest film by Pedro Almodóvar, La Piel que Habito (The Skin I Live In), has finally hit our screens. This got me thinking afresh about the subtitling vs. dubbing dilemma, the skill sets and technologies involved in audio-visual translation, and its place in today’s multi-lingual business environment.

Disappointingly (in my opinion!), many films in the UK tend to be dubbed, which I find can really take away from the subtleties of the product as it was intended to be viewed. On the other side of the fence are those who believe subtitles are a distraction and remove the viewer’s focus from the content of the film. Voice-over is yet a third type of audio-visual translation, which, unlike dubbing, does not involve lip synchronisation and as such tends to be used in documentary-type films and television programmes, or for corporate videos.

Feelings often run high in this subtitling vs. dubbing debate, but it’s important to remember that all options are viable and that the key to success lies in adopting the approach that’s best suited to the audience you’re targeting.

So how does audio-visual translation apply to you and your business?

As well as being instrumental in the international popularity of major blockbusters, audio-visual translation is also vital for a whole range of business activities and promotional materials, from international television advertising campaigns to audio newsletter production and corporate videos.

As in cinema, it is important to consider your target market when translating this material, as well as the impression of your business that you want to convey.

Say you have decided to expand your business by opening up your export market. If everything goes according to plan, you might find yourselves setting up new offices or franchises across the globe. You won’t want to lose touch with the brand message and policies you have lovingly tendered at home, so when the time comes to translate your training videos, it may be that using subtitles helps the original character of the company shine through.

Alternatively, if you are launching an advertising campaign abroad and want your company to appear established in the target market, then dubbing or foreign voice-over is probably the right choice for you.

It is also possible to go for an in-between option, where the advert is dubbed but the “exoticism” of the original is retained, e.g. the Volkswagen slogan ‘Das Auto’(The car), and Audi’s strapline ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ (Advancement through technology), which are both left in German for the British market.

How does audio-visual translation work?

The task of voice-over artists, dubbing artists and subtitlers is not a simple one. They need to ensure they provide an accurate translation that conveys the meaning of the source, whilst respecting the time and space constraints and taking any visual prompts into account, too.

Audio-visual translators work from time-coded scripts that they feed into specialist software. This software incorporates any specific client requirements – e.g. font size, reading speed of projected viewers, and details on the safe area (the area defined for the subtitles to be displayed) – and brings these together to calculate the maximum amount of characters possible for each portion of the translation. The translators can then view their subtitles superimposed onto the video to get a feel for the end product.

Voice-over artists also need to work with time-coded scripts so that they can get the timing perfect. If you can’t get your hands on the original script, no need to worry! Simply send over the file in question (using the Master file if possible) and your translation agency can generate a script for you.

I have a file that I would like translating – what do I do now?

If you have a file that requires audio-visual translation, first take a moment to consider the method that works best for you (subtitling, dubbing or voice-over). Then get in touch with a professional translation agency who will help confirm the right approach. For the best results, provide as much detailed information as possible, including reading speeds (words per minute), safe areas, company-specific terminology or voicing requirements. The translation will then be delivered back in a pre-arranged format that is compatible with your systems.

For more information on audio-visual translation, please visit our website.

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