Dubbing and subtitling translation services: Everything you need to know

By Acclaro
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Q&A: Dubbing and Subtitling Translation Services

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

Dubbing and subtitling translation services refer to the translation of audio dialogue inside of a video format, such as a movie, TV show, 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.

Often confused with voiceover, dubbing translation means replacing the spoken dialogue with — in most cases — a simultaneous spoken translation.

Subtitling vs dubbing: How or why do you choose one over the other?

Sometimes, it’s a stylistic preference. There’s also a difference in cost. Subtitling is often less expensive than dubbing because you don’t have to hire native-speaking voice talent.

However, because subtitles are visible on screen, dubbing may be a better solution if your video includes people speaking and you want to change the language in which they speak.

Another factor to keep in mind is that high-profile people who appear on camera often prefer translation subtitling, 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 identified with them as their face or body language.

How does subtitling work?

Let’s start with subtitling since it’s a slightly easier process. You will first need a script of the English dialogue. If the content is unscripted, you can use a transcription service to get one.

OK. I’ve got a script. Now what?

Now you (or your dubbing and subtitling translation services 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 require 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 frustrating. 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.

Although automated subtitling is widely available, it’s not your best option if you’re looking for professional results. Bad subtitling with mistranslations and confusing typos can harm your brand’s reputation. Your best bet is to work with a localization agency that leverages qualified, native linguists to ensure that your subtitles convey the right tone for your target audience.

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?

Dubbing, meaning the changing of dialogue to a different language, is a bit more complicated. Like before, you’ll need to get your script together and format it with timecodes.

Once that’s done, dubbing 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’ll need to hire native-speaking voice 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 lowering of the volume to having the character speak free-form until the end of the sentence all the way to lip syncing 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 it’s a better option for more high-end, polished dubbing. Finally, you’ll need to have the sound engineers place the dubbed track into the original audio track and produce the final video.

Does a native speaker need to review dubbing as well?

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

This helps ensure that your dubbed content meets the same quality standards as the original.

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

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

Most people, even polyglots, only speak so many languages. And generally speaking, most multilingual people speak some of those languages better than others. 

Trying to find professional voice talent who could dub your content with equal language proficiency into, say, six different languages – or even three – would be hunting for unicorns.

How do I create subtitles and voiceovers that speak to my international target audiences?

To help your brand connect with audiences in new markets, make sure to find expert, in-country voice actors and linguists. A translation agency with experience in professional subtitling and dubbing translation solutions can work with you to find the best talent available for your multilingual voiceover and subtitling work. 

Where do I learn more about dubbing and subtitling translation services?

To get advice on how best to adapt your audio and subtitling for international markets, please contact one of our multimedia translation experts for more information. 

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