Many organizations have videos or CDs in English (or their native language) but forget that their audience – whether Latinos, Chinese or other ethnicities in the US or customers overseas – would understand them better in other languages.

As a general rule, people may learn English just as Americans learned other languages in high school or college. But in most countries and especially in Asia, Russia and the Middle East, that learning involves grammar, reading, writing and literature. It does not involve speaking, listening or rapid comprehension, particularly if terminology is technical. Therefore, if your product or training videos remain in English, other speakers will probably have a limited understanding … and your ethnic or overseas impact will suffer.

Localizing (to use the proper term) a CD or video involves various steps:

  1. Transcription. Do you have a written version of the speaker’s narrative? If not, the CD must first be transcribed (writing out the spoken words in a .doc format). Transcriptions are normally priced by the number of audio or video minutes.
  2. Translation. From the transcription, your professional language agency can do the translations into your target languages and dialects (such as Brazilian Portuguese or Taiwan Chinese). Before transcribing, prices can be estimated based on say 135 spoken words per minute x the number of minutes. But calculations can only be confirmed once a transcription and the word count are complete.
  3. Voiceovers or Subtitles?

FYI, technically

  • dubbing is a 100% replacement. This means that the foreign narration totally speaks over the original English, as in movies.
  • voiceovers are a percentage, such as when an English interpreter in a news story talks 95% over a speech by the French president; the film still retains a bit of the French in the background since it is a commonly spoken language.

However, the terms dubbing and voiceovers are often used interchangeably.

Your language agency can provide say two or three sample voices per language for you to choose from. Be sure to specify first the gender, pitch, age range and type of voice you want when this is appropriate.

In general, subtitles are less expensive. Do be mindful, however, of the background color of your film. The words may not show up so easily against a very light or very dark background.

  1. Translation expansion. Whether for voiceovers or subtitles, common languages such as French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German require 10 to 20% more words than English does to convey the same concept. So if your narrator speaks quickly and if the frames move to the next shot quickly, where are those expanded words to go?

Overly fast voiceovers or subtitles will mean that the target audience cannot absorb your information.

Some possible solutions:

  • Slow down the English original to match the expanded language. This will not work if your CD, for example, must be exactly 4 minutes.
  • Cut the translation so that the same concept is expressed in fewer words. For example, instead of saying “requirement” in English, you can use “need.” Fewer syllables, shorter word. Similarly, instead of saying, “Our newly launched product incorporates the most up-to-date innovative technology,” the translation can say, “Our new product presents the latest innovation.” Fewer words and a shorter sentence that will expand with more translated words when dubbed or subtitled.
  1. Other issues to consider:
  • Voiceover fees. Voiceover talents generally charge a one-hour minimum, even if your video is five minutes. Their rates may triple if your CD is for public broadcast on TV or radio.
  • Union vs. Non-union talent. If you are a prominent brand or public company, your image will probably require you to use more expensive unionized talent.
  • Acculturation. Professional language agencies with target-culture knowledge can guide you about what kind of voice would be appropriate in your context.

In some cultures, a male voice may sound more authoritative even though your English narrator is female. Or your male narrator should be replaced by a female voice that is more common in Japan, for example, for many types of presentations.

  1. Production. Professional language agencies can also blend music and incorporate all the elements as part of the standard production process. Your deliverables will be clones of your original files but in other languages.

Thank you. We look forward to expand your presence to other cultures or countries.