Is subtitling or voice-over best for your audience

By Matinée Multilingual
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A lot of our customers want to compare the cost of either subtitling or voice-over services, but the cost is almost irrelevant.

Undoubtedly subtitling is the least expensive method of translating video, but the method that is best for the audience should be the primary concern.

In my previous blog about what method of translating video is best I looked at the different ways you can translate video. And deciding what method is best for your audience is actually very easy; even if you are inexperienced in audio-visual translations. First take a look at the content of the video and take some notes:

  • How much on-screen text or captions are there?
  • Are there any people talking directly to camera?
  • Is there an off-screen narrator/voice-over?
  • What languages(s)/market(s) are you translating the video for?

Once you’ve taken note of the above, imagine the content is in a language you don’t understand. Now think about what method of translation would work best. I’ve provided some pointers below.

Lots of on-screen text/captions

Lots of on-screen text

If the video contains a lot of on-screen text or captions e.g. see screenshot above. Then you’re asking a lot of your audience if you expect them to read subtitles and the on-screen text at the same time. The screen will become cluttered with text and the message diluted. Your audience will tire quickly and instead of learning about your latest product or carefully considering your CEO’s message they’ll struggle to grasp the basics.

Clearly, in this case the best option is to translate the voice-over and translate the on-screen text/captions by editing the video source files. If the video source files aren’t available, it may actually be more cost-effective to re-create the video entirely, particularly if it’s based on PowerPoint style slides.

Alternatively a lower-cost option is to subtitle the on-screen text/captions but still translate the voice-over.

People talking directly to camera

Talking Head

If anyone is talking to camera i.e. a talking-head like the screenshot above – then UN-style voice-over or subtitling can work equally well. A UN-style voice-over is where the volume of the speaker is lowered into the background and the translated voice-over acts as an interpreter. This approach works well for content with a serious message such as a news interview. If you want to retain the emotion of the speaker in a health & safety video for example, then it may be preferable to subtitle instead.

To produce a UN-style voice-over professionally the audio-visual translation agency will ideally require the music/FX on a separate audio track to the existing voice-over. The creative agency or video production company should be able to provide this.

Off-screen narrator

It’s always a puzzle when a client wants to subtitle their 3-5 minute product demo, when it’s basically an animation with voice-over. Why subtitle it, when a translated voice-over is closer to the original and will deliver your message more succinctly? And the cost needn’t be a factor. If the video is around 10 minutes in duration or less, there is a marginal difference in cost.

As mentioned above, it’s particularly important to translate the audio if there is also a lot of on-screen text. Otherwise you’re asking your audience to read all the text and the subtitles for the voice-over at the same time.

The languages/markets you are targeting

Some markets have a distinct preference for voice-over instead of subtitles and vice versa. Knowing the literacy level of your audience is also of very important. There isn’t any point subtitling a video if you’re audience can’t read well.

You’re preferred audio-visual translation partner should be able to recommend the best approach for each market.

Here is a summary map of the world which highlights global literacy rates:

World literacy rates

To conclude, when you are translating audio-visual content, it is important to consider more than cost. It could be argued that translating video using the wrong method will actually cost your client money in the long term and lessen the impact of their video overall.

So, it’s worth spending a little more time and money to ensure that the most effective solution for the target audience is chosen. Experienced video translation agencies will be able to help you asses the points highlighted above, and, together, you should be able to best meet the needs of your clients – ensuring that they choose you again for their video translation requirements.

To find out how we can help your business with professional subtitling, translation, and voiceover services, why not get in touch with us today? We provide services in over 80 languages including French, Italian, Spanish and German voice overs and subtitling.

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Or call us on +44 (0) 118 958 4934


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