Translating voices: Dubbing and voice over

In our new translating voices mini-series, we take a look at the audiovisual translation world, focusing on dubbing, voice over and later subtitling, to learn more about the specificities of this exciting field of translation.

Whatever country we live in, the hard graft of many audiovisual translators, who specialise in translating the on-screen voice, is making its way into our living rooms and our lives. In a lot of countries, such as Spain and France, it’s no secret that we’re listening to their work pretty much on  a daily basis, in the form of the dubbed TV programmes and films that make up part and parcel of national viewing habits. Aside from this, however, we’re also listening to audiovisual translations in the form of voice over. Dubbing may tend to hog the audiovisual translation limelight when it comes to revoicing audiovisual material, but voice over, which is different on many levels, also plays an important role in our lives. So what exactly is dubbing, and what is voice over?

These two methods of reversioning audiovisual material are actually quite distinct from one another, in three main ways: how they sound, the type of content they are used for, and the translation priorities they require.

  1. How they sound

In dubbing – and particularly lip-sync dubbing – the spoken audio of the original film or television programme is stripped away, to be entirely replaced by the new, reversioned audio, which through various methods is designed to look and sound like it were the original, and NOT a translation at all.

Conversely, with voice over, and in particular the common UN-style voice over, the emphasis is entirely different. The purpose is to relay clearly to the new audience what is being said by the original speaker – the voice over serves as an aid, much like an interpreter does. The fact that it is a translation is no secret but is instead paraded loud and clear: the viewer is listening to the original at the same time as the new version, hearing just the original speaker for a second or two (to help them absorb the tone), before the translation comes in.

Another way in which the two methods sound very different is that with dubbing, for each actor in the original, a different voice actor (with similar voice traits) is heard. With voice over, however, often the same voice will be used for all speakers. This is not always the case, though – sometimes a few different voices are used, for example, one voice-over artist for narration, one for all female voices and one for all male voices.

  1. The type of content they are used for

The reason dubbing is the most renowned type of revoicing is because it is most often used for entertainment content and big-budget films. Many of these are English-language, Hollywood films, although of course this is not always the case. In countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy, dubbing is the go-to method for all entertainment films – be it comedy, horror or action — however in countries that traditionally use subtitling, such as many Nordic countries, it is often down to the production team to decide if dubbing or subtitling will be used for such content.

UN-style voice over, on the other hand, is hardly ever used for entertainment content (although there are instances of this working, for example in Poland where programmes such as Friends are not dubbed, but have voice over instead, which is all voiced by one artist). Instead, the fact that voice over allows the viewer to hear the translation over the original makes it a good method for translating foreign audio in documentaries and interviews, and this is where we most often experience UN-style voice-over translation. It is also used a lot in corporate videos and online videos that are more informative in nature.

  1. Their translation priorities

With both dubbing and voice over, the translator has to work with tight space limitations – as with both forms of revoicing the translation needs to fit squarely into the time it takes for the original speaker to make their utterance. But with lip-sync dubbing, there is an extra component, as the new translation also has to sync to the mouth movements of the speaker. This means that the dubbing translator needs to watch each utterance very closely, noting down mouth shapes and translating very closely according to these. They are granted quite a bit of freedom because of this priority, and, though loyalty to the original is important to some extent, dubbing translators move away from the source to ensure synchronisation with the image.

In contrast, the voice-over translator is not really justified in moving away from the source. Voice over’s raison d’être is to bring across loud and clear the words of the original speaker, and this is what the viewer comes to expect. Imagine, for instance, a presidential speech on a news programme where the translator has taken liberties to alter the speech, or a company training video where the words of the CEO are altered. Of course, in the interests of keeping to the space limitations mentioned above, the translator needs to carefully choose to remove any words which are unnecessary or superfluous, and also needs to ensure that the translation reads smoothly, but the overall priority is certainly one of fidelity.

To sum up, then, it would seem that when it comes to revoicing, dubbing has the more creative, adaptable edge, and voice over is the more loyal, serious, and straight-and-narrow one in the relationship.


In the next installment of the translating voices mini-series, we take a look at the subtitling industry – stay tuned!

Cassandre - French translation intern

An internship to remember

I’ve always considered internships to be excellent training opportunities. They allow you to build your skills, learn new ones, and get a better understanding of the world that awaits you at the end of your studies. I also believe that, as with many things, it’s all about finding the one that will be perfect for you. So when I stumbled across a blog post written by Caro, the former intern and now new German translator at AJT, I did not hesitate before sending my application.

It’s a bit difficult for me to sum up all I have learned during these three months in a few words, as I feel like I have done and learned so much. There was of course translation and editing, which, while I did expect to be one of my main tasks, I did not think would still be so diverse and exciting. AJT works on a lot of very different projects and so I got to get involved in the translation of documents that could vary from a Facebook post about the remake of a famous video game to an article for the Kickstarter page of a renowned camera lens.

I was also given my very own translation project to work on form the beginning to the end of my internship, thus learning to manage a glossary and a Translation Memory. This project involving the translation of training guides for an American chain of fast-food restaurants, and the many specific terms and internal IT tools presented a real challenge. As a result, I have been able to realise just how important researching and knowing the company you are translating for really is.

I was also provided with excellent training in the use of CAT tools and app and website localisation, a field I was really looking forward to learning more about. Learning to work with Smartling was a very exciting opportunity. This CAT tool has a lot of really helpful functionalities to offer, whether that be the integrated style guide or being able to preview the translation in context.

I also learned about the translation of metadata and Google ads, two things that were very new to me. One challenge I did not expect to be faced with while localising the content of a website or an app was managing the placeholders. While placeholders weren’t new to me, having been introduced to video games localisation, I simply never thought they would also be involved in this type of content.

Another thing that surprised me was how marketing-orientated some of these projects could be. If you thought translating IT content was all about terminology and technical components, there is so much more to it than that, and I will surely take away with me how important it is for the translation to fit into the culture of the brand or company, and how moving away from the source text when the translation calls for it can really make all the difference.

Anja Jones Translation is a great environment for translation students to hone their skills and learn all there is to know about website, app and brand translation. The entire team really made me feel welcome and encouraged me from the start to the end of my internship. I will definitely miss working there every day, but I will take away lots of fond memories with me.

Cassandre, French translation intern


Do you think being an intern at Anja Jones Translation could be right up your street? Our next internship will start in February 2017 – don’t hesitate to get in touch!



A huge welcome (back) to our new German Translator Caro

It is with great pleasure that today we welcomed back Caro Thill as our newest German Translator. We were lucky to have Caro with us as an intern last year, and she is now ready and raring to go as a full-time, permanent member of the team, having polished off her BA in Translation Studies at Heidelberg University, Germany.

We are so pleased to have Caro back in the office – we had such a fantastic time working with her last year that her two-month internship swiftly turned into three.

Caro is originally from Luxembourg and speaks Luxembourgish, German, French and English. She also speaks a little Welsh and has hinted that she may even start learning some Cornish.

Caro is excited to be part of the growing team here and cannot wait to settle in Newquay and take full advantage of all it has to offer. In her spare time, Caro is thinking of taking up some French Boxing which she was a dab hand at back in Luxembourg.

As part of her studies, Caro recently wrote a 45-page thesis on metaphors, making her our first port-of-call for all things metaphorical. Now that you are onboard, the world really is our oyster!


Marketing translation and return on investment

Marketing translation: the cost of (not) translating your brand

As modern consumers, we are constantly inundated with information. The rapid adoption of mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and wearable tech, coupled with an increasingly reliable internet connection on the go, means that we are rarely off the grid. Digital content is coming at us from all angles and as a result, we have become very good at the art of ‘extreme skim reading’. As we try not to drown in content, we are learning to filter out anything that isn’t 100% relevant to us. We simply don’t have the time anymore to invest in reading something – anything – unless we feel that we really get something out of it. And we make that judgment call with lightning speed. In today’s fast-paced, content-rich world, 10 seconds is like a lifetime. So when your potential customer is reading your text (in whichever format you have delivered it, be it an email, a promoted Facebook post, your website, a Google Ad), you need to make it count.

When you create your English marketing materials, you have got it covered – you know exactly what works and you create bespoke messaging for your English-speaking target audience. But as your business starts to grow and you enter new markets for the first time, how will your English copy fare? Many international companies work with an ‘English first’ content strategy, where marketing content is first created in English (most often the company’s business language) and subsequently translated into other languages. In the beginning, a marketing translation is often more cost-effective and easier to manage and implement than engaging with content creators and marketing agencies in the new target markets.

In the translation industry, professionals often talk about localisation. The essence of localisation is to make the translated text as relevant as possible to readers in the target language. The aim is to speak to the reader in such a way that he/she wouldn’t even realise that the text is a translation. Why? There are two reasons:

Number 1: Familiarity

We tend to feel safer buying from a company who speaks the same language as us and who shares the same cultural values as us. In an e-commerce context, consumers face a lot of uncertainties when buying products or services from another country, so it’s only natural that they would be somewhat more sceptical about a foreign company. Is it safe to pay with my credit card on this website? What’s the return policy? What are my legal rights buying products from another country? Most companies will have all of this information very clearly laid on their website but your potential customer hasn’t even got that far yet. When he/she first interacts with your content, you want them to feel like they are in safe hands.

Number 2: Avoiding unnecessary distractions

You need to eliminate any elements that will cause your reader to pause unnecessarily, anything that will distract them from your core marketing message. For example, if you are only displaying prices in USD on your website, a German reader would have to convert the prices into EUR to understand if it’s a good deal or not. This means stopping, calculating in one’s head or checking on a currency conversion website. By that time, your prospect may already have lost interest (or simple hasn’t got the time) and has moved on.

In a world where people’s attention span is shorter than the time it takes to say ‘content marketing’, every interaction with your potential customers, however fleeting, must be interesting and inspire confidence in your brand. So when you get your marketing materials translated from English into another language, you need to get it right from the start. Of course, entering a new market is always associated with costs, including the cost of translation. But investing in a high-quality marketing translation is your best bet to ensure that your translated marketing copy will really resonate with your target audience, and that you will see a faster return on your investment in translation. In the end, it boils down to simple maths:


the cost of (not) translating your marketing content

Cornish language translation

A Taste of the Cornish language

Dhyd da! At AJT we may hail from places as far flung as Dresden, Luxemburg, and Burgundy, but that doesn’t stop us feeling that pang of pride for Cornwall and for all things Cornish.

The region has a distinct cultural heritage, along with its very own language, which makes it a truly special and unique place to call home. Being the language-lovers and Cornwall-lovers that we are, it goes without saying that we were all extremely excited to see the world’s first ever Cornish TV advert aired on national television last week, putting this little-known regional language firmly back on the map. And what’s more, the ad was for delicious Cornish ice cream.

You can see the 30-second advert, which is for Kelly’s of Cornwall’s ice cream, below. The ad features a Cornishman serving ice cream in a field and speaking animatedly in Common Cornish about their new range of flavours, stating: “Yma res nowydh kavadow a Kelly’s Cornish ice cream hag yw as tasty as” (There’s a new range of Kelly’s Cornish ice cream available that is as tasty as).

As mere beginners of the Cornish language, so far knowing only words such as “Kernow” (“Cornwall”) and “Myttin da” (“good morning”), the advert has certainly whet our appetite. But exactly what is Common Cornish, and who speaks it today?

Cornish is a Celtic language with very similar roots to both Welsh and French Breton. It was Cornwall’s main language for centuries, with the earliest written examples dating all the way back to the 9th century. Cornish went into decline and had all but disappeared from everyday use in the 19th century. However, thanks to the work of individuals, who documented the language, a process of revival began, leading UNESCO to change the status of Common Cornish from “extinct” to “critically endangered” in 2009.

In Cornwall today, over 500 people say Cornish is their main language, and this number is growing. There are also magazines in Cornish, as well as some radio broadcasts and newspaper articles. And it seems that there are even some Cornish speakers living as far as Australia and the US!

For more about the Cornish language, Kelly’s have developed this very useful Cornish phrasebook.

To get you up and running, here is a transcript of the Cornish advert in full: