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The Art of Subtitling and Voice-Over: Prepping Videos to Go Global

By: Ella (Elżbieta) Pętlicka, Program Director - Venga Global

13 July 2016

In the last few years, the use of video for marketing messages, training purposes, and in the field of Human Resources (HR) has gone through the roof. Rapidly evolving technology has made it easier than ever to produce videos on a small budget almost anywhere. With the rise of YouTube, Vimeo, and others, distribution is no longer complicated or costly. At the same time, many people simply prefer watching a short film to reading potentially long and/or boring text.

Video is also an ideal medium to convey emotional messages to an audience. According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, videos will make up more than 80 percent of all consumer traffic on the internet in 2019, up from 64 percent in 2014.

But one challenge remains: How to make those videos go global for your clients or your team?

Generally speaking, you have two options: You can either produce a new audio file in the target language (voice-over) or you can add subtitles to the video. Let’s have a closer look at some aspects of audiovisual translations that will help you to determine which is the right way to go and enable you to make a clear argument for one vs. the other when presenting to your client or other internal departments.

Know Your Options

While it might seem desirable to always provide a voice-over, subtitles can serve your client, or your internal team, and their audience very well. Voice-over makes a lot of sense when you want to reach people on an emotional level with sales and marketing pitches. Subtitles work best for educational and instructional content. Here is a quick overview about the pros and the cons:

One major benefit of subtitles, besides being a lot cheaper, is their relevance for SEO. They make videos readable for search engines. Films with subtitles always rank and perform better with both Google and YouTube, and create more inbound traffic. One way to mediate this downside for voice-over is to also subtitle the video. Since the transcript of the translation is available already, the additional costs for this extra step are often very manageable.

Beware of the Pitfalls

If you know that your client or internal department will want their video subtitled or dubbed down the road, it will be beneficial to educate them on a few things before they start shooting that will streamline the translation process down the road. First and foremost, it is important for any presenter or speaker to take time and speak slowly with lots of pauses to allow subtitles and voice-over to catch up. This is all the more crucial if you translate into a language that will expand. While translating from English to German, for example, your text will turn out to be about 30 percent longer. It also takes some time for the viewer to read subtitles. Rushing the viewer makes for an unpleasant user experience.

Make sure to emphasize that subtitles will need space at the bottom of the picture, so a wider frame with some dead space is best when framing the shot. You also want to make sure that they minimize the use of text in the video that will compete with the subtitles for the viewer’s attention or for space in the frame.

How to Be Budget-Conscious Without Appearing Cheap  

One of the things that we do without fail here at Venga, is have the client sign off on any transcript or subtitling before we finalize. Even a one sentence or one word mistake can throw off the whole meaning. Subtitles are corrected fairly easily, but ironing out mistakes in voice-over is very costly.

Because the process of creating new audio or subtitle files and hard coding them is technically involved, preparation is key to save money without looking cheap. Requesting the raw video file with all tracks intact, not the compressed version, from the start cuts down expensive production time. The same is true for text files used in the video. Are the raw files available? Can the text be easily replaced with the translation? With compressed video versions this often requires a time consuming work-around.

Corporate Training and Marketing Materials 

In the areas of translated and subtitled corporate training and global marketing and sales videos with voice-over, success comes down to three things.

  1. Making sure you receive all available lexicons.
  2. Have a translator and a proofer who specialize in the subject matter.
  3. The client or the internal team you are collaborating with knows the content best, so make sure you have them sign off on the final version of the translated script. Confirm with them that you have conveyed the message the way they want.

In the end, providing voice-over and subtitling can expand your video investment by opening the doors for broader audiences. 

Ella (Elżbieta) Pętlicka

Elzbieta Petlicka is a multilingual professional with a varied localization experience. In the last 10 years she has experienced localization from different angles and in different roles: she worked as a translator, project manager, and program manager. She helps both small and large multinational organizations design and execute large-scale localization programs that drive companies to “go global”. On the back-end she leads an internal team of localization project managers, assesses the current state of processes and tools, establishes a plan for implementing new solutions and executes with cross-departmental resources. She holds Masters degrees in Scandinavian Studies and Translation Studies, as well as additional certification in audiovisual translation, and hands-on experience in translation and localization.