Multimedia localization: voiceover & subtitling

By Seán Nolan
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Multimedia Localization: Voiceover & Subtitling

Preparing your multimedia content for international markets requires a localization strategy. With moving images, animated onscreen text, voiceover, background music and sound effects, you have a lot of options to consider depending on the audience you’re trying to reach. 

There are many ways to prepare for your viewers’ locale requirements. For example, you can replace the original voiceover with recordings in your target language, add subtitles for the viewer to understand what’s being said or change onscreen text and images.

Should you localize the voiceover or create subtitles? 

When it comes to voiceover and subtitling, each option has its pros and cons, but budget and quality expectations will generally guide your decision. For instance, a voiceover is typically more expensive, but it guarantees a more customized and polished experience. Subtitling, while effective and more affordable to produce, may interfere with onscreen content. 


Localizing voiceover is the easiest way for audiences to absorb the information you want to communicate, especially if there’s a lot of action or onscreen text to read. It can be difficult to read subtitles while trying to watch what’s happening onscreen.

If you go the voiceover route, keep in mind that high-quality multimedia content with a bad voiceover may distract your viewers or leave a negative impression. If professional voiceover artists are outside of your budget, our post-production team can recommend many experienced home recording talents who do a great job for a fraction of the cost.

You’ll also want to consider that translated audio scripts may be substantially longer than the original. This can require retiming of the videos to match localized voiceover. If there’s background music in your video, that will also need to be retimed by sound engineers. 

As for onscreen animations, you can retime them using tools such as Storyline and Captivate, so recording the voiceover to restricted timing isn’t necessary.


If you’re on a tight budget, subtitling is the way to go.

Most subtitles are limited to two lines on the screen at any given moment because viewers need time to read them. When producing subtitle translations, it’s important to keep in mind that speakers may talk fast, and the word count in your target language may be higher than in the source language. We can edit down translations by being concise, using shorter synonyms for long words and removing any fluff that doesn’t add meaning. This can give the viewer a more comfortable and enjoyable reading experience.

What’s the difference between subtitles and captions? 

Subtitles and captions are basically the same thing.

  • Closed captions are subtitles that viewers can turn on or off. They’re produced in the form of subtitle files like SRT, VTT, DFXP, etc. 
  • Open captions are subtitles that viewers cannot turn off. They’re published as MP4 or MOV files.

Other variations, like voice captioning in English (or any other language) and subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, are written for viewers who may not be able to hear the audio. These can be references to sound in the content, like: “screeching of car tires,” or “ominous music” or “dog barking.”

What about onscreen text?

Captions can also refer to static or animated onscreen text. We refer to these captions simply as onscreen text.

If your video has high-quality, animated onscreen text, we recommend you supply the source files with editable text so we can maintain the quality of the original production. These will usually be created in video editing tools such as After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer, to name a few.

Localize voiceover and subtitles for your target market

Your choice between voiceover and subtitling for multimedia localization should be driven by the needs of your target market. If you’re looking to localize your content into Spanish, French or Portuguese, be aware that the European variants of these languages can be very different from those in other regions, like Latin America, Canada or Brazil. You may need a couple of different language translation versions in order to be effective. 

Similarly, Chinese for Hong Kong and Taiwan is written with different characters (traditional Chinese) from other regions, like mainland China and Singapore (simplified Chinese), and the spoken Chinese dialects are numerous. If your content will be used for Chinese speakers in the U.S., make sure your viewers will be able to understand the spoken or written text.

No matter which you choose

Finding the right localization partner for multimedia content will ensure it’s seen and heard in the most effective way possible. If you want to leverage your assets in new markets and plan to take on voiceover and subtitling yourself, why not consult with Acclaro’s specialists first? We can guide you through the options based on your goals, budget and timeline. Contact us today. 

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