Strangers on a train 2017

Stranger things have (never) happened on a steam train: a review of Strangers on a train 2017

I have to start with an admission: I have a bit of a professional crush on the Stranger Collective.

Ever since we first had the opportunity to collaborate with the copywriting geniuses at Stranger, translating their beautifully crafted blogs for Coca-Cola’s Think Positively Collective into five languages (this was way back in 2010 and our very first multilingual project), I’ve admired their ability to produce outstanding and ever-fresh content.

Here at AJT, we translate anything between 200,00 and 400,000 words into German and French each month, and in the process of dissecting someone’s written words in one language and reconstructing them eloquently in another, we have come to really appreciate ‘good content’. Content where each individual sentence makes sense on its own, and then effortlessly and logically links in with the next. Intelligent content that engages and tickles one’s interest to read on.

But apart from being the oh-my-god-I-wish-I-could-write-as-amazingly-as-you content creators, Strangers also know how to put on a good event. The kind of event that gets your synapses firing, that makes you think about your own life and passions, and that inspires you to [insert your own lightbulb moment here].

Having attended the magical Raft event in 2014, otherwise referred to as “a lifeboat of fresh thinking in the sea of the ordinary” (you can read a lovely review about the event here), I was chomping at the bit when I received an invitation to Strangers on a Train, a one-day micro ‘thought festival’ that promised to spark new creativity, collaboration and intrigue.

Set on a vintage train and inspired by 1930s fashion, Strangers on a Train was an absolutely magical experience. From professional actors reading short stories to a make-up artist adding a dash of period-appropriate sparkle to your face (including a mini massage!); from a quiet carriage to learn about the important work of Children in Crisis to a mini disco; from a delectable Tarquin’s gin and tonic (courtesy of Sharp’s brewery) to melodic musical renditions, each of the train’s compartments was a little mini story in itself.

But there were also inspiring talks. Simon Cohen, founder of Global Tolerance, a communications agency with a conscience, talked about the importance of optimism and how we can lead more fulfilling lives when we focus on other people’s happiness. That ‘good luck’ isn’t something that ‘happens to us’ but something that we help to make happen by taking proactive, and sometimes even brave, steps.

In another carriage, Annie Atkins, a graphic designer for the film industry, talked about her experiences of working with director Wes Anderson to create the props for the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. Whether it’s innocuous props like a stamp (each passenger got to take home a printed stamp as used in the film!) or very prominent props like the Mendl’s “pattisserie” box (which should be spelt with one t, not two, as Annie learnt the hard way after Wes spotted her typo halfway through the movie – after about 200 scenes had already been shot featuring her beautifully hand-lettered box), Annie provided a great insight into the effort that goes into making movie props that are truly authentic.

And all of this was just happening on the train. On the platform, musicians like Tom Dale and The Mighty Spectres provided the perfect soundtrack to an unforgettable evening, while The Kitchen provided delicious nourishment (there was a whole deer lying on a butcher’s block being expertly ‘dismantled’ as the train left the station, and it was sizzling on the BBQ as the train pulled back in).

One of Stranger’s straplines is “a bazaar of talents…”, and Strangers on a Train was just that – from the organisational talents who planned this event to all the wonderful people who contributed on the day to make this such a special happening (and yes, I am unashamedly including a proverbial wink to the handsome conductor in the smart First Great Western uniform here). Thank you Strangers, you well and truly delivered on your promise!

Like herrings in a barrel - Dutch idioms

Like herrings in a barrel: 5 quirky Dutch idioms

Although I am a native Dutch speaker and have lived in the UK for many years, I still have the occasional embarrassing steenkolenengels (literally coal English) moment.  Also called Dunglish: the popular term to describe the mistakes made by some native Dutch speakers when speaking English. The Dutch term steenkolenengels goes back to the early twentieth century when Dutch port workers used a very basic form of English to communicate with the personnel of British coal ships.

Of course there is nothing more hilarious to my British friends and family when I use Dunglish, especially on such occasions when I attempt to translate a popular Dutch expression literally. ‘You what!?’

The Dutch language is full of idiomatic expressions. Their origins are often found in our rich nautical and maritime history and in our everlasting battle with water. Others have animal themes, refer to parts of the body or find their origins in Scripture. Here are some of my favourite Dutch idioms:

Nu komt de aap uit de mouw (Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve)

This means that the truth is finally revealed or you have seen a person’s true colours. According to a Dutch dictionary of idioms, het Groot Uitdrukkingenwoordenboek van Van Dale (2006), this goes back to times when street artists would literally hide a monkey in their coat or sleeves as part of a magic trick. 

Haar op de tanden hebben (to have hair on one’s teeth)

To be very strong or assertive. Apparently people used to think there was a link between body hair and strength! The more hair, the stronger the person. Therefore if someone had hair on such an impossible place as their teeth, they must have been very strong indeed.

Ben je van de trap gevallen? (Did you fall down the stairs?)

You might be asked this question after a visit to the hairdressers. Originally the saying was: ‘did you fall down the stairs and break your hair?’

Als haringen in een ton zitten (to sit like herrings in a barrel)

You don’t need a big imagination here. It means being in a crowded place.

Een ezel stoot zich in het gemeen niet tweemaal aan dezelfde steen (a donkey doesn’t bump into the same stone twice)

You won’t make the same mistake twice. Similar to the English expression: once bitten, twice shy.

For more quirky idioms, check out our Utterly Butterly blog in which Théo shares five of his favourite buttery French idioms and Anja’s It’s all about the sausage blog which explores sausage-related expressions in German.

nautical vocabulary in every english language

10 English expressions with nautical origins

Here at AJT, we live and translate by the sea. Every day we’re inspired by our relationship with the ocean, so we thought it might be fun to have a look at where some of the nautical terms found in our daily vocabulary originated. Some expressions have quite an obvious nautical connection: to know the ropes (to understand the procedure), to batten down the hatches (to prepare for a crisis), to be a loose cannon (to be out of control or unpredictable and likely to cause damage) or to give something a wide berth (to keep a safe distance) – you can quite easily see the connection there.

But there are plenty of other less apparent terms which you might not immediately associate with Britain’s seafaring past, so here’s our top 10:

1. To overwhelm

We can find ourselves overwhelmed in all kinds of ways. We might find ourselves ‘overwhelmed’ with emotion, or our football team completely ‘overwhelmed’ by another side. It also conveys the sense of being inundated or overpowered by something, and we may feel ‘overwhelmed’ by our workload, or a delicate flavour might be ‘overwhelmed’ by a much stronger one.

But closer to its original Old English nautical meaning of to capsize or founder (in fact ‘whelm’ comes from the Old English verb ‘qhelmen’, to turn upside down) is the notion of being submerged or drowning beneath a huge mass of something, especially water – a small sailing boat could easily be ‘overwhelmed’ by huge waves – and in this way we continue to use ‘overwhelm’ in the way it always has been.

2. To be groggy

If you’ve ever woken up from a poor night’s sleep or suffered from a heavy cold, you’ve probably found yourself feeling a bit dazed and weak, a bit ‘groggy’ perhaps?

But ‘groggy’ was first used to describe sailors who had drunk too much ‘grog’, a watered-down rum and water mixture ordered by a British Admiral in the 1800s. His nickname being “Old Grogram” due to the type of coat that he wore, naturally the term ‘grog’ was born, and it is still used today to describe an alcoholic drink. But whereas back in the 19th century ‘groggy’ described the state of being intoxicated, today we would refer to a person as drunk, legless or plastered, using ‘groggy’ to describe the feeling the day after indulging in a night of excess.

3. To be aloof

We can describe a person who comes across as distant or withdrawn and who may be seen as unapproachable and perhaps standoffish (or detached), as ‘aloof’.

‘Aloof’ actually originates from an old Dutch word ‘loef’ which meant ‘windward’ and was used when an individual vessel within a fleet would sail higher to the wind meaning it was drawn apart and sailed further away from the rest of the fleet.

4. To pipe down

If a person tells you to ‘pipe down’, they’re telling you in no uncertain terms to stop talking and be quiet!

In nautical terms, though, ‘pipe down’ was the name given to the last signal each day from the bosun’s pipe or whistle. The bosun, or boatswain, being the foreman of a ship’s crew, would sound the the ‘pipe down’ signal to signify time for lights out and silence below deck.

5. To fathom something out

When a person is attempting to come up with a solution to a problem or to work something out, it can be said that they are trying to ‘fathom it out’.

In nautical terms, a fathom is a six-foot (1.8-metre) measure used to determine the depth of water at sea with ‘to fathom’ being the act of taking the measurement. So, when you’re ‘fathoming something out’, you’re trying to get to the bottom of it – which makes perfect sense, when you think about it.

6. To be taken aback

We are said to ‘be taken aback’ when we find ourselves taken by surprise by something we really weren’t expecting.

However, the phrase originates from a nautical situation in which a ship finds itself heading up into the wind with its sails pressed back against the mast (said to be ‘aback’). With the wind on the wrong side of the sails the ship finds itself forced astern (backwards), a perilous situation for the crew.

7. Something is in the offing

When something is ‘in the offing’, it’s imminent, it won’t be long before whatever is expected to happen, happens.

A sailor, though, would know that the ‘offing’ is the part of the sea that can be seen from land, although not that part nearest the shore. If a long-awaited ship was ‘in the offing, its arrival was imminent, and it’s easy to see how this sense has been carried through to its present-day usage.

8. By and large

‘By and large’ is a general term used to refer to the bigger picture – ‘By and large’ this blog post is a very informative read; It’s been a great holiday, ‘by and large’.

However, at one time sailors would use ‘by’ to mean ‘into the wind’ and ‘large’ to mean ‘off the wind’ so a phrase such as ‘by and large this ship handles quite nicely’ means that the ship sails well, both into the wind and off the wind, which seems like the best of both worlds to us.

9. Hand over fist

We use ‘Hand over fist’ to refer to a steady and rapid gain and it’s most often used when talking about money – to make (or lose) money ‘hand over fist’.

However, the phrase started out life as ‘hand over hand’, a British nautical term for the act of moving quickly up a rope or hoisting a sail, which was a matter of pride and competition among sailors. It is thought that American sailors subsequently changed this term to ‘hand over fist’.

10. The cut of one’s jib

The ‘cut of one’s jib’ is used to make reference to a person’s, usually well-dressed, appearance – you may like ‘the cut of someone’ jib’.

In nautical terms the jib is the triangular sail stretched in front of the foremast. Warships often had their jib sails cut thinly so that they could maintain point and not be blown off course. If a captain sighted thin foresails on a distant ship he might decide that he didn’t like the ‘cut of his jib’ and would then take the opportunity to escape.

So, whether you’re a landlubber (an inexperienced seaman who would probably fare better on land), or a bit of an old salt (an old, retired or experienced sailor), we hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post as much as we’ve enjoyed researching it.

Are you a fellow ocean lover? Follow our hashtag #translatebythesea on Instagram!

Just another lunch time in Newquay 😎 happy weekend everyone! #newquay #cornwall #translatebythesea

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Quick post meeting lunch stop in Perranporth! #Cornwall #translatebythesea #translationservices

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Chambers Dictionary of Etymology
The Chambers Dictionary

The challenges of translating poetry

To quote Robin Williams’ brilliant character John Keating in Dead Poets Society, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race […] poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Besides being what keeps us going as a species, poetry is also one of the most intimate, subjective and creative forms of expression. As such, it is probably the most challenging type of work a translator can come across. Both form and substance are to take into account when trying to render the beauty of a poetic text.

What makes a poem so difficult to translate?

One word: metaphors. Besides having found their place in our everyday conversations, metaphors are an essential element of poetry. They can be used as a way to make ideas sound more lyrical, to communicate them without naming them, or even to make rhyming easier! But metaphors can rarely be translated literally: they either have a direct equivalent in the target language (every translator’s dream) or they don’t, and it gets more complicated. A lot of the time, metaphors from different languages call on different elements to express the same ideas: when English people complain about it raining cats and dogs, French people exclaim “il pleut des cordes!”, literally “it’s raining ropes”… (As to deciding which one makes the more sense, your guess is as good as mine). Metaphors, much like jargon or slang, take their roots in a place’s culture or history. Therefore, something like “Turkeys voting for Christmas”, expressing the idea of a metaphorical death wish, will make sense to American, British or French people, but maybe not to person from Italy, for example, where fish is the traditional Christmas dish.

Although metaphors are more common, some poets also make use of what is called conceptual synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon involving two sensory elements of our body. In practice, it can be found in formulations like “a loud-coloured shirt”, which brings an aggressive, garish colour to mind. Another way for words on paper to activate our sense of hearing is to make use of certain sounds. For example, a poet can render the noise of water by using words such as splash, splatter, spill! The study of linguistics shows that this is only one example of several groups of letters that refer to a specific sound. However, they won’t necessarily evoke the same sound in every language, and could be lost in the process of translation.

What role does the translator assume when translating poetry?

Is the translator a mere means of transfer or is he an artist himself? Should the poem be adapted to sound fluent in the target language or keep its original personality, running the risk of sounding alien to its target audience? These questions have been asked by generations of translators and don’t only apply to the translating of poetry, but to all of its forms (with the exception of technical translation).

The one advice for a translator to take from this article is to be as familiar as possible with their field of work. Practice makes perfect, and exploring not only the practical aspect of a type of translation but also its theory is a good way to deliver a translation of quality. And when translating poetry, explore the text first, what emotions it carries and which formal means are used to do so, and remember there is no perfect interpretation. As Edmund Wilson said, “no two persons ever read the same book”!

If you would like to hear more about metaphors and synesthesia, you can watch James Geary’s interested talk during a TED conference:


Grammatically speaking: Different approaches to grammar

When it comes to communicating with each other, grammar plays a role of the utmost importance; without grammar, we would be unable to construct intelligible sentences. However, as an active part of any language, grammar is bound to evolve with time, and not everyone experiences this change in the same way. Find out if you side with prescriptivists or descriptivists.


Whose side are you on?

Imagine you are queuing in a supermarket, and you notice a sign above the till that reads “10 items or less” (instead of “fewer”, which, as English grammar books will tell you, should be applied for quantifiable, or countable, objects).

Now, if reading that sign made you want to throw your groceries out of the window, chances are you have prescriptive views. Linguistic prescription (or prescriptivism) is the idea according to which a language should have one proper form, with an established set of rules that should not be transgressed, neither in writing nor in speaking. In the eyes of prescriptivists, breaking these rules equals being in the wrong. A few centuries ago, when writing started gaining importance as a means of communication, a standardised language had to be created, as a way for people in different parts of a country to understand each other. Unsurprisingly, the language used by people in power, or high in society, was the one chosen to fulfil this role. With time, it became recognised as the “proper” language: linguistic prescription was born.

If, on the other hand, the admittedly incorrect sign doesn’t bother you, you are most likely to be a descriptivist. Indeed, descriptive linguistics, as the name indicates, describes language phenomena rather than advocating them. Descriptivists recognise the fact that language belongs to its speakers, and that it is bound to change: they believe content is more important than form when it comes to sharing information. In other words, as long as the person you are speaking to can understand you, proper use of grammar is not of prime importance. To descriptivists, breaking the rules is simply evolution.

So in the end, who’s right?

Although it might seem that the two schools of thought contradict each other, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and we need both of them in order to study linguistics as well as to learn new languages. According to the web-based publication Ethnologue, there were as many as 942 million English speakers in the world in 2015, but only a little over one third were native speakers! The remaining 600 million are scattered across hundreds of countries, with their own culture, references, and accents, which inevitably get incorporated into the way English is spoken and written. Hundreds, if not thousands of different world Englishes exist, and descriptivism studies all of them as an observer.

However, in terms of language learning, prescription has the advantage of creating a standardised language, even if it does get renewed every so often – let’s consider the fact that the proper spelling of “bird” was “brid” in Old English. This standardisation not only makes communication a lot easier when travelling to other countries, it has also allowed English to become the “Lingua Franca” in most countries, meaning it is the language the most widely used between speakers from different countries.

Which school should translators choose?

As a marketing translator, the best choices come from observation. The grammar used by your client reflects their personality, their brand, and they want all of their customers to experience this brand in the same way, no matter which language they speak. However, what could be acceptable in one language is not necessarily acceptable in another. It is thus very important to adapt the tone and grammar in the target language. Read their content carefully and ask yourself, “Do they use abbreviations? Are they making up words to suit their products?” If so, you can feel free to be creative in your target language if it sounds acceptable. If not, always think about you own experience as a customer to think about what your target audience might expect from this brand.

Always remember, choosing words is like choosing an outfit. Do not translate a suit into shorts and flip-flops!


Translating voices: Subtitling

In the second part of our Translating Voices mini-series, we take a look at the exciting world of subtitling.

For many of us, subtitles play a massive role in our daily lives. We make use of them on the big screen, small screen and online, whilst watching a diverse range of genres in different languages to our own. These on-screen translations serve the important purpose of recounting to us, in a digestible way, all the foreign-language elements we are encountering in our selected programme. Mainly this is of course the dialogue of the characters or speakers, but subtitles also importantly provide a translation for any on-screen text (names of buildings, graffiti, the list goes on), and also often for the soundtrack. Any subtitler will tell you that subtitling a film or television series is no easy feat, so what are the specificities of this method of localising audiovisual content?

The two restrictions of subtitling

The subtitler is often said to be subject to two big restrictions in their work, and these are the temporal and spatial limitations they face. Crucially, subtitles must be timed to sync with the speaker and to the natural breaks in their utterances, which are of course heard loud and clear at the same time as we are reading them. This proves difficult as words are most often spoken much faster than they can be written on-screen. Add to this the tight spatial limitation – the fact that each subtitle must contain no more than 35 characters per line – and you can see the type of challenge subtitlers face, especially those translating into the more “flowery” languages or languages with particularly long words such as German. On top of this, subtitles must also be perfectly timed to appear and disappear in time with shot changes (as this ensures a smoother viewing experience for the audience). It goes without saying that these restrictions have a great bearing on the translational decisions the subtitler must make.

The subtitling status quo

While we will go into more detail about the challenges the subtitler faces in our next Translating Voices post, for now it is worth pointing out that with all the skilled subtitlers’ will in the world, subtitling is not a localisation mode that is universally adored. Subtitled films and programmes are found to varying degrees across Europe, one of two major forms of localising audiovisual content alongside the popular dubbing localisation method. Whether a country favours subtitling or dubbing is often dependant on local customs and history. So what is the current status quo in subtitling today?

In Scandinavian countries not an hour goes by when subtitled programmes are not in the television viewing schedules. Absolutely everything is subtitled and very little is dubbed. This is also the case in countries with multiple languages, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, where subtitling means that different languages can be displayed on-screen simultaneously. It is a different state of affairs in Germany and Spain, which are traditionally dubbing countries, rooted in a long history of the practice. Of course, some content is subtitled where budgets do not lend themselves to the dubbing process, but overall dubbing is the prevalent method. And then we come to countries where learning foreign languages is not high on the priority list – such as the UK and the US – where often watching subtitled programmes can feel like a bit of a chore. In these demanding markets, film and television creators sometimes even lean towards full-on adaptations and remakes of foreign content.

Subtitling and dubbing: a comparison

Now that we know a little about the status quo, just how does subtitling compare to dubbing – its main competitor -as a localisation option?

  • Subtitling is much cheaper than dubbing – some say up to 15 times cheaper
  • It is also a process that takes far less time and typically involves fewer people
  • Subtitling is generally seen as more loyal than dubbing, making it arguably the best option for showcasing auteur directors’ individuality and style
  • Subtitling is a good option for more informative texts where budgets may not be so high and there is a clear message to convey
  • Subtitling is often a successful method for fast-paced action films, although many argue that dubbing is a better option for this genre

Stemming from the days of silent movies, where written text would appear between shots to guide the audience, subtitling certainly has come a long way and has quite a history. In an ever more globalised world, the future of subtitling looks bright, although it does of course go without saying that there will be continued competition with other localisation methods. For those wanting to get into subtitling, be prepared for an exciting challenge.

In the next instalment we take a look at a day in the life of the audiovisual translator, looking in more depth at how they approach a subtitling translation task. Not to be missed!

To read last week’s instalment of Translating Voices, all about the world of dubbing and voice over, click here.


Introducing Noreen, our translation intern for the summer

We are today extending a very warm welcome to our translation intern Noreen, who will be joining us over the summer months.

Originally from Lille, France, Noreen is half-way through a 2-year Masters in Translation at the University of Lille. She is pleased to be back in the UK, where she feels right at home, having previously lived and studied in Worcester and Birmingham.

Noreen is a creative soul with a real interest in all things audiovisual and also a love for literary translation. She is a keen writer and has even written and recited her own poetry – we hope there may be an ode to Newquay in the pipeline!

Though she only arrived yesterday, Noreen has already noted how similar Cornwall is to the beautiful region of Brittany in France, where her mother grew up, and cannot wait to get out and explore.

Noreen is very much looking forward to the next two months, and is keen to get more acquainted with the various translation software we use, and to get to know in more depth how agencies are run on a day-to-day basis.

French vs British culture: A teenage perspective

What is it like to be a British teenager growing up in France? What are the most noticeable cultural differences for youngsters, compared to the UK? Esmée Laughlin Dickenson, our recent work experience student, lived in France for nine years of her childhood and shares her perspective on French culture. 

A lot of people don’t realise how different France and England are culturally and it can be quite a shock for them when they go to France on holiday. There are of course similarities but it is good to know all the important differences before packing up your suitcase and jumping on the plane to your holiday destination.

My being 16, I do not have the knowledge to tell you about all of the cultural differences between France and England. For instance I couldn’t say what the nightlife is like and how the work place differs. However, when it comes to the life of a teenage girl I really know my stuff. There are three main categories that I think people visiting France should definitely being informed of:

A whole lotta kissing

One of the ‘weirdest’ things for English people and in fact any people who don’t do this in their culture to get used to is the ‘bise’. This is the main greeting in France; you simply ‘kiss’ both cheeks of the person you are saying hello to. The first thing that I think I need to clear up about this whole kissing strangers thing is that it is completely normal in France, so don’t think that its weird or gross, just go for it. Also, you don’t have to ‘kiss’ if you don’t want to, most people tend to brush the sides of their faces together and kiss the air. It makes the sound, it looks right but you don’t actually have to kiss them properly.

Food food food

Something that English people really love is food. We just can’t get enough of it. Neither can French people but when it comes to eating they usually wait a lot longer before meals. They tend to eat dinner late in the evenings, mostly after 7:30pm and it can sometimes be as late as 10pm. It gets much hotter in the summer than it does in England so people tend to wait until it is cooler to eat. Lunchtimes can also be very different. I have never known a French school where children bring in packed lunches, instead they eat in the canteen or if they have a note from their parents they can go and eat out. This is a really nice thing to do in the summer, as it’s not always that nice to be squished in a lunch queue surrounded by other sweaty teenagers when it is 35 degrees outside.

School systems

School in France is pretty different to English school on quite a few levels. A lot of English schools pride themselves on being ‘friendly’, having lots of extra curricular activities and how the school is a really great community to be part of. In France, often they tend to just want to make sure you get good grades and there really isn’t any room for anything else apart from homework and dinner once you get home as French schools finish much later. Finishing times vary as you get older, but at the age of 16 you tend to finish at 6 or 7 o’clock. Although French children may not have as many and in some cases any extra curricular activates, they do have Wednesday afternoons off which is probably the best part of French education. Another big difference is that in France, you are allowed to wear whatever you want to school, which is good but it can leave you feeling a bit rushed for time in the morning if you aren’t very good at deciding what to wear. In my opinion, having to wear a uniform here in England is less stressful and so much easier. There is no fuss in the morning; you just put the same thing on every day.

Both countries definitely have good and bad things about them and even though they are not worlds apart in distance they can sometimes be in culture.


Welcoming Vincente, our new French translator

It is our pleasure to introduce the lovely Vincente, our new French translator who joined our growing team last week.

Hailing from Orléans, France, Vincente is a bit of a globetrotter, having lived in Denmark and Belgium and also Dundee, Scotland. She is now really excited to get to know the south west of England and further develop her translation skills.

Vincente previously worked as a translator at the UNOPS arm of the UN in Denmark, where she specialised in IT, technical and corporate texts. She graduated from the Université François-Rabelais in Tours, France, in 2011 with a BA in Applied Foreign Languages. Vincente is a linguist through and through, and can also speak German as well as Italian and a bit of Spanish.

Vincente is looking forward to eating some Cornish seafood, sussing out some new running routes in the Newquay area and also giving surfing a go.

Pleased to have you on the team, Vincente!



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!