Foreign language voice-over recording involves a number of steps from script translation and locating voice talent to the actual recording and file delivery. But if you have a multimedia project that includes audio, there is another option besides voice-over recording: subtitling. Subtitling adds foreign language captions at the bottom of the screen to mirror or paraphrase what is being said in the video.

video screen capture with subtitle
We used subtitles in this anniversary video because we wanted viewers to hear the greetings in different languages
The client requested voice-overs in 9 languages for this promotional video

Voice-over recording will usually be significantly more expensive than subtitling. You can see the complexity of the process in our earlier blog posts. If voice-over is more expensive is it automatically better? The short answer is “Not always.” Depending upon a variety of factors, voice-overs, subtitling, or a mixture of both may give you the results you need.

Purpose and content of video

  • Marketing and promotional videos

For a marketing or promotional video, a voice-over is usually preferable because it is more personal. Just as you would choose a persuasive voice for your original video, you can choose voices that will resonate well with the foreign-language target audience. This works best if your video has an invisible narrator. If your video contains individuals speaking on-screen, it’s very expensive to lip-sync or dub the voice-over. Subtitles will convey the meaning and audiences will still hear a speaker’s vocal inflections and emotions.

  • Training or explanatory videos

In the case of e-learning modules or how-to videos, the personal voice may not be as important since the content of the video matters more than the mood of it. This can be an argument for subtitles. However, there are definite exceptions. If a training video simply demonstrates something on screen while the audio describes it, subtitles can work. But what if there are explanatory text/titles on the screen as well? Viewers may find it hard to read the subtitles as well as the rest of the text. In addition, for technical training, the procedure being taught might require close attention. When reading subtitles will divert the attention of the viewer, choose voice-overs.

Audience preferences

Take into account the cultural preferences of your audience. In some countries there are strong preferences for either voice-overs or subtitles. For training and e-learning videos, the different types of learning methods prevalent in the target country should be considered.  Also think about how the audience will watch the video. If the audience primarily uses mobile, subtitles will either be too small to read, or they’ll obscure too much of the visual content.

A cultural consultant can guide you in these matters.

Budget

While ideally you would base your choice on which mode works best, we know that costs matter too. After all, there may also be costs involved in localizing your video that don’t relate to the audio, such as on-screen text or graphics with embedded text requiring translation. The fact that you cannot afford the gold standard of video localization does not mean that you and your localization partner cannot come up with a plan that will meet your needs. The best way to minimize your costs and maintain the greatest latitude for choice is provide your localization partner with these important components:

  • A timed script for the video
  • The source file for the video
  • Associated source files
    • Music and sound effects
    • On-screen text
    • Images
    • Animations

Lacking some of these files may likely incur additional costs for re-creation. Make sure your video production company delivers all of these files along with the finished video file.

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