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HT Localization Presents Language Translations for Real Life: Voice-over or Subtitles: Which is better?

Segment 59 – In which language will you watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi?  

Last year when Rogue One was released, I was in Bangkok. I really wanted to see the new Star Wars, but it was tricky being abroad...

Fortunately, the film was available in English with Thai subtitles (my Thai companions appreciated the subtitles).  Later when I returned to Europe, I went to see the film again, this time in Spanish without any subtitles. Then shortly later, the film was available on streaming TV service in English with Spanish subtitles - so I saw the film again, just because I could.

When clients ask me about voice-over versus subtitles, I consult with them to understand the desired experience and budget.  If you have a multimedia project that includes audio, subtitling can be a viable option. Subtitling is adding foreign language captions at the bottom of the screen to paraphrase the dialogue in the video.

While most audiences would prefer watching a video or film in their native language; subtitling or a mixture of both VO and subtitles, may also give the desired results.

We don’t all have Lucusfilm’s budget, do we?  It all comes down to budget.  Producers want the greatest “bang for the buck.”  

Due to the complexity of producing professional quality sound with voices appropriate in tone, and the synchronization of the sounds to images, the total VO costs will typically outweigh the cost of subtitling.

Budget is a factor of course, but so is timeline.  Producing a fully localized video or movie with VO requires more time.  Translating the script(s), selecting the talents, scheduling the studio, directing the talents, editing the audio, synchronizing the sound to the image, etc., etc., etc.  Then managing any retakes due to changes or mistakes or preferences. The effort involved is a project in it of itself.

What is involved with subtitling? If you’ve ever watch a video where you can follow both the audio and the subtitles, you can probably attest that the translation doesn’t always match word for word, yet somehow the context is still right on.  That’s the art of subtitling. The script is interpreted and paraphrased into timed-sized bites with the intention of expressing the verbal ideas with text.  Some dialogue may be excluded or condensed down to just a few words, yet still conveying the meaning perfectly.

So, which should you choose? Depending on audience, desired impact, budget, and timeline, the choice can be easier than you think.

Audience – is the audience internal or public? 

Selecting VO may be an interesting option here because the cost of the production will vary depending on the quality level needed.  For example, a lower budget may be ample to produce a localized video for internal use, such as training or eLearning materials for employees. The professional talents used for training materials have different qualifications than those professional talents hired for a TV commercial or video.   The recording quality based on the studio and sound requirements will vary.  For example, Hollywood grade studio sound quality may be overkill for an internal training video.  In fact, for some computer based elearning training modules, a clean “computer recording quality” VO may be just perfect – and much less complex, which means less expensive.

Video objective – is the product a “rah-rah” drink the Kool-aide HR type morale production, or a client facing “step by step” product guide/tutorial, or an international/cultural tourism interview piece?

Subtitles or VO, or a combination of both may work well here.  For example, have you ever sat through an online training tutorial where you had to read a bunch of stuff and listen to explanation about procedures or a technical program? If you want to keep your audience engaged, you’d be well served by including some VO from voice talents with engaging voice and tone.  How about a cultural video where local people are shown in an interview or in the background speaking in their language.  In this case, you might be well served by simply subtitling some of the speakers, so the audience can appreciate the authenticity of the native speaker while still reading the text for understanding.

Now, back to the important question, in which language will you watch the new Star Wars: The Last Jedi?  

I will probably see the original voice version in English, then the Spanish version, then probably a subtitled version (not sure which language yet).  It’s fun “research” for a localization video producer like myself.  Looking forward to seeing you in a galaxy far far away on December 15th!

May The Force Be With You!

If you have any VO and subtitling questions or need help planning, contact us - we can help channel the Force...(and your budget)

  … Stay tuned for the next Segment of HT Localization Presents Language Translations for Real Life Series… 

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This article was written by Rachanee Thevenet, Co-Founder of HT Localization.  Rachanee is an Asian-American expat living in Spain with her family.  She loves all things international including food, art, literature, culture, languages and people.  She has years of professional product marketing expertise and global expansion experience.

HT Localization, LLC. is a worldwide translation & localization agency providing a full range of professional language translation services, including social media localization, marketing translations, website translations, software localization, eLearning materials, documentation translations, etc.  With locations in the US, Spain, France, Zambia & Thailand, and coverage across all languages and most industries, HT Localization is well positioned to provide around the globe services for all translation needs.  

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Last modified on November 28, 2017

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