Voice Over Translation, Lip-Sync, Dubbing & Subtitles

Taking advantage of digital video and audio trends worldwide

voice over translationWhen translating videos, flash or eLearning content that include audio tracks, there are a number of techniques designed to deal with the multidimensional obstacles that will be encountered. Voice over translation often involves dubbing as well as lip-syncing, all of which are distinct and require professional services. Even subtitles, which use some of the same techniques but have their own idiosyncrasies, require close attention to detail of the professional variety. All four of these techniques of audio translation and localization will be briefly explored.

The Difference between Voice Over Translation and Dubbing

Think back to those old noir films where the hard-bitten detective talks about his time beating the “mean streets” while his character strolls down the boulevard. That’s a voice over; when someone narrates what the viewer is watching. News outlets regularly employ voice over technique, though it’s seldom seen in advertisement. Voice over techniques can be put to good use in a variety of situations. They can provide a word for word interpretation or a summary of the ongoing dialog. 

For instance, a narrator might describe an exchange between local tribesmen in a National Geographic opens in a new window documentary. Instead of saying exactly what they’ve communicated, she gives the viewer the gist of the information being parleyed; it’s “spirit”, if you will. So time is saved, while necessary information is communicated. But for in-depth communication, sometimes the voice over technique just doesn’t cut it, and specificity is required, especially in videos where the ongoing dialog is crucial, like in movies and TV programs.

Dubbing provides the closest thing to exact interpretation. It communicates intent and concepts as clearly as possible, but it is distinct from the voice over in that often multiple speakers are used to translate exchanges in real time. The original speaker’s voice will be cut out completely instead of faded in a voice over situation, and replaced with a translated narration in the necessary language. Oftentimes, dubbing involves accurate translation with synchronized timing; but it doesn’t always directly match up with the mouth movements of those in the dubbed footage, which brings us to lip-syncing and subtitles.

The Advantage of Lip-Syncing vs. Voice Over Translation

Good dubbing will never match up exactly with the mouth movements of the speakers. But sometimes a synonym can be used conceptually. For example, in Japanese anime, the word often used to incredulously—or inquisitively—express the English concept “what?” is “nah-ne”. When an anime is dubbed, sometimes there’s not an exact English equivalent to fit the mouth movements. This is why in many anime films, you’ll have English dubs with characters saying “what, what?” or “Oh, oh…”, or something like that. However, the more professional the dubbing, the more accurately concepts and mouth movements are synchronized.

Using a professional translation service will yield results that put locals viewing your translated materials at ease. A non-professional service will have the kind of gaffes that make many westerners view Japanese animation as hokey. Whether or not it is, there is certainly bias against it because of the way it is perceived. A lot of that perception comes from either poor dubbing, poor translation, or poor lip-syncing.

But sometimes the best dubbing and lip-syncing still can’t communicate a concept correctly. In this case, subtitles (closed caption or CC) may be the most effective tool. Accurate translations unrestricted to speaking time or lip movement can take place where only their appearance on the screen needs to be synchronized with their corresponding scenes. While extremely useful in accurate translation, in describing the surroundings, invaluable to the hearing impaired and less costly to produce than voice, they’re unpopular for the necessity to read while viewing. That said, subtitles can provide a good solution when the audio is correctly transcribed and properly timed with the audio track.

Deciding which Audio Translation Technique is your Best Option

Digital video’s growth on the web has been explosive over the recent years. Companies are taking full advantage of multimedia content on their websites and social media sites to promote their brands and generate leads. Professional video production is costly. Properly localizing it enables you to amortize production costs over many geographical regions making your return on investment much more palatable. Don’t just produce videos in your language and expect everyone around the world to consume them. The more comprehensive the translation and localization you employ, the more likely your videos will go viral or have an impact worldwide. Employing a translation service that understands the nuances and challenges of audio and video translation makes the most sense, regardless which video localization method is ultimately chosen.

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