Subtitling and Dubbing

Q&A: Subtitling and Dubbing

Category: Multimedia, Translation Services

OK, let’s start with the basics. What’s the difference between subtitling and dubbing?

Both subtitling and dubbing refer to translation of audio dialogue inside of a video format, such as a movie, TV show, an online video, etc. Subtitling means putting a written translation of spoken dialogue on screen, simultaneously with the audio. Take a look at our blog post on subtitling for some examples. Dubbing (also called a voiceover) means replacing the spoken dialogue with — in most cases — a simultaneous spoken translation.

How or why do you choose one over the other?

Usually, it’s a stylistic preference. However, because subtitles are visible on screen, dubbing may be a better solution if your video is “busy” (full of graphics or other information that subtitles may cover up). Conversely, subtitling is often cheaper as it is less expensive than hiring native-speaking voice studio talent. Many high-profile people who appear on camera often prefer to be subtitled in translation, so as to preserve the integrity of their vocal reputation.

Really? People care about “the integrity of their vocal reputation”?

Really. Sometimes people don’t want their voices substituted with other voices on recorded media, even if they’re not speaking the same language as the listener. They want their voice to be as identified with them as their face or body language.

How does subtitling work?

Let’s start with subtitling since it’s an slightly easier process. You will first need a script of the English dialogue.

OK. I’ve got a script. Now what?

Now you (or your subtitling vendor) will need to add timecodes, so that they know exactly when the subtitles are supposed to appear and disappear. Once that’s done, you can start translation…but be warned: you only have 32 characters on two lines, or 64 characters in total…including spaces. You may need to adjust your subtitles accordingly which may mean slight contextual variations from the original audio dialogue.

But can’t I subtitle things online for free?

Yes, but you may find that it’s more frustrating than you might think. Boiling down the translations into the required number of characters per line while faithfully following the audio speed and leaving enough time for the reader to read through it all comfortably can be a challenge.

Got it. So am I done with subtitling?

Not quite yet…it’s a good idea to have a native speaker go through the subtitles and make sure they match up to the dialogue. Then, pat yourself on the back, Subtitle Wizard! You are ready to roll tape.

How does dubbing work?

This method is a bit more complicated. Like before, you’ll need to get your script together and format it with timecodes. Once that’s done, translation begins, but make sure the translators are aware it’s a voiceover script so they know to stick to the rough length of the English. Next, you will need to hire native-speaking voiceover talent to record the translations in a studio. Often this is done while they are watching the video so they can match up their speech to the character speaking on-screen. There are a few different styles of doing this, ranging from a general “lower the volume and have the character speak free-form until the end of the sentence” all the way to “lip sync in precision with the words spoken by the character”. The latter is more expensive as it takes more effort to translate and produce in a studio but is a better option for high-end, polished dubbing. Then you will need to have the sound engineers place the dubbed track into the original audio track and produce the final video.

Do you need to have a native speaker review dubbing as well?

Yep! Just like with subtitles, dubbing needs to be reviewed and sometimes edits (called “pickups”) need to be re-recorded to cover any glitches.

What if I have several different languages to dub? Can one person do them all?

Generally, no. You’ll need to hire individual voiceover talent for each language into which you want to dub.

Where do I go from here?

Learn more by reading our top ten tips for voiceover localization, and feel free to contact us for more information.

Photo attribution: drestwn (feature image), danmachold