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Translator writing script on the floor.

Why voice actors should never translate scripts

There are clearly some things you expect from a voice actor:

  • They’re fluent in the native language and accent for the job.
  • They are professional, polite and punctual.
  • They are prepared and able to take instruction.
  • They are able to record a pre-approved script in the allotted time.

You can expect a lot when it comes to the style and quality of a voice actor. Heck, you even have the right to ask for a voice that can melt a heart of stone, or encourage an Ebenezer Scrooge to ‘splash out’ on products they don’t need!

But…there are the things that you shouldn’t ever expect a voice actor to do.

  • Happily voice a poorly written script.
  • Know exactly where to put emphasis in the read.
  • Know the pronunciation of unusual words, technical terms, acronyms or brand names with zero guidance.
  • And perhaps most importantly – Translate your script. Why not? Well, I’m glad you asked because…

…Being a foreign voice actor and a translator are different jobs

Have you ever gone into a butcher’s shop and asked them to check your eyes? Or asked your local bus driver for a haircut? No of course not. They’re completely different jobs. Let a bus driver loose on your locks or get your butcher to check out your vision and carnage will undoubtedly ensue.

Being a Foreign Voice Actor and a Translator Are Different Jobs
Photo credit: Jason Varney for The Wall Street Journal

Asking a foreign language voice actor to translate your script will also ensue in said carnage. Voice actors are trained actors and translation is a completely different discipline. Both require years of study and practice to master. This is why you need to hire two separate people with two very different skill sets.

Of course there is the odd occasion where a bi-lingual voice artist will also have defined skills in translation work but never assume because they speak a foreign language they can also translate your script. The same way you can’t expect any foreign speaker to have a wonderful voice and produce a perfect voice over.

Let the voice actor concentrate on what they do best

When you hire a voice actor you want a top class vocal performance. The success of your campaign rests on how good a job the voice actor does. The tone, pace and emotion all have to be on the money.  Let them get on with this vital job to the best of their ability. They won’t be able to do this if they turn up to the recording and discover the script still needs to be translated. The hourly cost of a voice actor and studio is also much higher than the hourly cost of a translator. It pays to be prepared.

voice actor going mad behind the mic - Why Your Voice Actor and Translator Should Be Completely Different People
Photo Credit:

It would lead to a big delay or a rushed job

Translating a script seems like a really quick and easy job to carry out, doesn’t it? I mean, all you have to do is substitute one word for another until you change the original text into…complete gibberish probably.

There are issues like cultural differences and phrases that simply can’t be directly translated. Translation work can take a long time, especially if it involves a lot of technical words, unusual phrases or a strict word count. It takes longer still if the translated voice over has to be time-synced, the translator will often have to creatively condense and re-write the script to convey the same message in a shorter time.

If a voice actor were to attempt the translation in the studio before recording it will inevitably result in a longer session or a rushed job that fails to meet basic standards of quality.

All of this means that you need to set the appropriate time aside for an experienced translator to get this part of the job done in advance. There is simply no way that you can expect an actor to turn up at the session then rush through the translation and read the script in one sitting.

Of course, you might get useful feedback from the actor if they spot that the script is nonsensical or too literally translated, making it difficult to speak it. However, at the end of the day their sole job is to bring your words to life; it is up to another expert to write those words.

Voice Acting and Translating: The Truth About Doing Them Together

Get the best possible end results

Overall, you really just want stunning results that leave you feeling immensely proud and jumping for joy. Well, there is no doubt that the best possible way to do this is to let the experts do what they do best.

When you hear the finished recording and get blown away by how darned good it is you will realise that you did the right thing by letting each person concentrate on their expertise.

Matinée is a one-stop shop – translation provider, voice-over agency and subtitling company. We localise audio and video content, enabling business to communicate around the world.

Get in touch for your free personalised quote today.