Translate a Voiceover

A voiceover is the spoken audio of a video, clip, track, film or podcast. Although a voiceover is seemingly integrated, it can be recorded in another language and layered back in, creating a new voiceover in the language of your choice. It’s professional and seamless, and creates the same experience as the spoken audio in the original language.

Voiceovers should not be confused with subtitles. Subtitles are where the original voiceover audio remains in place, and translated captions appear on screen. Translated voiceovers are more expensive to create than translated subtitles, but the benefit is that the user experiences the audio just like in the original version. Also, with voiceover there’s no reading of on-screen captions, so the audience experience is more immersive. 

If you’re looking to re-create your spoken audio voiceover in a new language, here’s some helpful information to get your project underway:

Voiceover vs dubbing – knowing the difference

Where translated voiceovers match on-screen speakers, this is known as dubbing. Dubbing is similar to voiceover, but is technically more difficult to produce. If the speaker is off screen and the spoken audio is from someone not visible, we call this a voiceover. This could be a training video, podcast, or narration, for example

Dubbing may seem simple enough, but it can be difficult to make the audio track align with the movements of the on-screen speaker’s mouth, especially if the target language requires more words to say the same thing.

Subtitles as an alternative

While translated voiceovers are commonplace in the business world, it is more common for the UK to use subtitles rather than dubbing for films and TV programmes. In contrast, France and many other European countries have an established practice of dubbing, and prefer dubbed content to subtitles. 

For most professional situations, voiceovers work very well. However, translated voiceovers erase the original speaker’s voice, which may not be appropriate in some contexts – for example, if the speaker is from a marginalised or disadvantaged group. In this scenario, subtitles might be a better and more impactful solution, allowing the original speaker’s voice to remain audible.

When it comes to costs, voiceover recordings in different languages can be expensive. They require professional voiceover artists, studio recording and post-production. Subtitles are considerably less expensive to produce than different language voiceovers, but the outcome is quite a different experience for the end user. 

Backing music considerations

If your video has both spoken audio and music, it might be that the speaker talks over the backing track. When the different language voiceover is recorded and added to the video, the complete audio track is replaced, potentially removing any backing music too.

When you request a different language voiceover, send the backing music as a separate file (commonly a .wav file, but other audio formats can be used, such as .mp4). This way your language company can layer in the backing music along with the newly translated voiceover.

Speaking to your audience

A key part of voiceovers is selecting voiceover talent aligned to your target audience. For example, if you have an upbeat video aimed at 18-25 year olds, you wouldn’t want the voiceover to be a corporate-sounding man in his 60s. Similarly, an important health and safety video for a large organisation will need a different tone and style to a TV advert for children’s toys.

People’s voices change considerably throughout their lives, and normally if your content is targeting a specific age group, you would want to use a voice talent of around the same age. That being said, older voices may carry more authority and weight, and may even be more soothing to listen to (think David Attenborough). Voice pitch can also strongly impact people’s subconscious impressions, with a higher pitched voice being seen as a symbol of attractiveness in women, while the opposite seems to be true for men.

The great thing is, you’re in control. Your voiceover provider will give you options and talent samples so that you can choose the perfect voiceover artist for your job.

Budgets and ROI

If your budget is limited, you might consider completing the voiceover for your video files yourself. The DIY option is always available, and in some cases, it might be all you need. However, for a professional-sounding voiceover, it’s always best to use a company who are used to producing high-quality voiceovers, in sound-proof environments with professional studio equipment. A professional recording will give the best impact whilst maximising your return on investment.

If different language voiceovers are out of budget, it’s worth considering subtitles. They are a great way of ensuring your audience understands your message, whilst leaving the original audio untouched.

Voiceovers will always cost more than subtitles, but they provide two very different outcomes. If you’re looking for an identical end-user experience, whatever the language, professional voiceover is the way forward. When done well, it’s more than worth the money.

Script preparation and translation

The first step in re-creating  a voiceover in a different language is to translate the script. If you don’t have the script already, it’s easy to create one. You can transcribe the audio yourself, or ask your language company to do it for you. They can even timecode the script so that it can be used as subtitles. If you do decide to do it yourself, make sure your script is perfect. It is this script that will be translated and recorded, so it needs to be completely accurate! If you’re not sure about this part, leave it to the experts.

Once the script is ready, it needs to be professionally translated. This is done by a native-speaking translator of the target language. Again, this is something you could do with your own native speakers, but we recommend using a professional translation company experienced in preparing translated voiceover scripts.

Once the script is translated, it will be given to your preferred voiceover artist, professionally recorded and edited, and added to the video along with any backing audio. After this step, your video will be ready to share with your audience!

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