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Subtitle or Voiceover: Which is best for translating video content?

Content is king. That’s the mantra of modern marketing, and it’s especially true for video content, since videos allow a message to be conveyed precisely and quickly.

But if you have a video project that you want to make accessible for your global audience, you may be faced with the challenge of deciding how you want your content translated. One of the challenges may be deciding whether to translate your video content using subtitles or a voiceover. How do you know which option is right for your project? Which option is less distracting to use depending on your content? Will the translated message be properly received?

Let’s breakdown each option to decide which one is best for your project:

 

Subtitles

Subtitles are written text overlay on the video. They are generally no more than two lines in length and timed to the audio to allow the audience to read for the length of the dialogue. This process does not affect the original audio, however.

Advantages

When the actor’s inflection, tone, and style of speech are significant to the video, subtitling should be considered. This allows the portrayal on screen to be more authentic since the original voice is still present. Subtitling is more cost effective for projects requiring limited budgets. Since search engines like Google and Yahoo can read captions, it can also be advantageous to use for multilingual Search Engine Optimization purposes. Voiceovers do not offer this advantage.

Disadvantages

It is not good practice to use subtitles if your video already has graphics on screen as this tends to clutter the visual space. Additionally, if your video contains multiple speakers, it can be confusing for the audience to follow who’s speaking. Following subtitles can also be challenging to a viewer if the video contains quick and wordy dialogue.

Subtitles are most effective for videos that are less complex visually, involve a single narrator, and have content that is explanatory or instructional in nature. If your project contains a large number of visual cues, subtitling should not be considered since it takes the viewer away from the action on screen.

Voiceovers

Voiceovers are overdubbed voice recorded from a version of the original script translated into the target language. If you’re thinking about using a voiceover for your project, you should be sure to consider what type of voiceover to use.

  • UN-style or (down and under) is just what the name suggests: the speaker’s voice is played at a lower level while the translated audio is played on top. This style of voiceover is commonly used for documentaries and news programs when only one speaker is present.
  • Lip-synched dubbing is when translated speech is timed to a speaker’s lip movement to best match the phrases spoken on screen. This form of voiceover gives the viewer the impression that the translation is spoken by the actors on screen. This option is time consuming and thus could become expensive due to the extra work involved with matching the translated script to the specific movements of the actor.
  • Phrase-sync voiceover is when a translated script is matched to the original timing or phrasing of the voice without regard to specific lip movements. With less attention to the movements of the lips, this option can be completed in less time compared to the lip-synched dub.

Advantages

A voiceover will not distract a viewer from the onscreen action in most cases. Additionally, since voiceovers are only an audio enhancement, they will have no effect on the visual space of a project, which helps keep your viewer’s attention without confusing them with cluttered overlays. It is also usually easier for the audience to follow overdubbed dialogue between two actors because the viewer can hear the contrast between the two voices.

Disadvantages

Voiceovers are more expensive than subtitling since a voice actor is needed. This cost can increase especially if the project requires multiple actors. It is also more time consuming, which can lead to problems if the project needs to be completed quickly. Also the mismatching lip synchs can become distracting over time. The voiceover method will also alter the original audio while subtitling does not.

Voiceovers are best used when your message is received visually. How-to videos are perfect candidates for using voiceovers because the audience will be able to focus on the spoken word and actions on screen rather than the distracting written subtitles. Also, if your video content contains multiple actors with dialogue, a voiceover will ensure your audience does not become confused. In many cases it’s best to provide your audience with both options.

At Bromberg, we offer both subtitles and voiceover options for your video project. Let us help you decide which option is best for your needs. For more information on subtitles, be sure to check out this blog entry on The History of Subtitles.

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Jinny Bromberg

Jinny Bromberg

President

Jinny started her career in the language industry early on in life and has always been passionate about different languages, cultures, and communication access. She began Bromberg from her basement in 1999 and developed the business as a single mom – holding her baby daughter with one arm while talking on the phone with the other.

Jinny has traveled to many countries and says that the world is too beautiful to pick only one favorite place. She can get by in Georgian and Ukrainian, and would like to learn ASL, because “it’s very expressive”. Her favorite pastime is jet skiing.

Jinny’s favorite quote about translation is “Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes” by Gunter Grass.

Jinny is the first state-certified Russian interpreter in Michigan. She creates and implements training courses and workshops for developing and enhancing the skills of interpreters and translators.

Her strongest quality is tenacity. She is a workaholic whose favorite thing about her job is having never-ending opportunities to learn, as well as seeing the passion of people who are in this industry.

If she was the world leader, she would first change language access and language learning policies and attitudes.

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