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Understanding Audiovisual Translation: Localizing TV Shows and Movies into Your Own Language

Audiovisual Translation: A Definition

With streaming at an all-time high, nowadays shows and movies are being consumed around the world through platforms such as NetflixHulu, and Amazon Prime. This colossal amount of content needs to be subtitled or dubbed to accommodate audiences with a variety of mother tongues, and that is where audiovisual translation comes in. 

Audiovisual translation, often abbreviated as AVT, refers to the process of transferring the verbal components of audio or video footage into a different language, and it is a specialized field within the translation industry with its own challenges and difficulties. 

Let’s have a look at the two main types of audiovisual translation.

Types of AVT: Dubbing vs Subtitling

There are around a dozen different types of audiovisual translation, but when talking about this particular field, there are two main activities that come to mind: dubbing and subtitling.

Dubbing

Dubbing is the most frequently used type of revoicing and it involves the translation of all spoken fragments of a movie or shows into a different language. The original audio is then replaced by a supplementary recording that is mixed into the original soundtrack, generally keeping all original background noises and effects. The main challenge when it comes to dubbing involves the need to make words match the actors’ lip-movements and gestures. This severely limits any translator’s freedom and calls for a great degree of flexibility and imagination in order to give the illusion that the characters in the movie or show are speaking the audience’s language.

Subtitling

Instead of using dubbing, many individuals choose to use subtitles when audiovisual localization is needed. Subtitling is the preferred option in a variety of countries, such as Belgium, the Netherlands or Portugal, and it offers the advantage of being a less expensive and faster process. This type of audiovisual localization involves translating the audio component and producing written text in the target language, which is then included on the lower part of the screen, keeping the original audio untouched. Subtitling has its own challenges, revolving mostly on the prevalence of colloquial and idiomatic language and expressions, as well as on character limits and restrictions, so let us delve into some of these in order to understand the importance of relying on specialized and professional translators for any audiovisual localization job.

Dubbing

Dubbing is the most frequently used type of revoicing and it involves the translation of all spoken fragments of a movie or shows into a different language. The original audio is then replaced by a supplementary recording that is mixed into the original soundtrack, generally keeping all original background noises and effects. The main challenge when it comes to dubbing involves the need to make words match the actors’ lip-movements and gestures. This severely limits any translator’s freedom and calls for a great degree of flexibility and imagination in order to give the illusion that the characters in the movie or show are speaking the audience’s language.

Subtitling

Instead of using dubbing, many individuals choose to use subtitles when audiovisual localization is needed. Subtitling is the preferred option in a variety of countries, such as Belgium, the Netherlands or Portugal, and it offers the advantage of being a less expensive and faster process. This type of audiovisual localization involves translating the audio component and producing written text in the target language, which is then included on the lower part of the screen, keeping the original audio untouched. Subtitling has its own challenges, revolving mostly on the prevalence of colloquial and idiomatic language and expressions, as well as on character limits and restrictions, so let us delve into some of these in order to understand the importance of relying on specialized and professional translators for any audiovisual localization job.

Subtitling

Instead of using dubbing, many individuals choose to use subtitles when audiovisual localization is needed. Subtitling is the preferred option in a variety of countries, such as Belgium, the Netherlands or Portugal, and it offers the advantage of being a less expensive and faster process. This type of audiovisual localization involves translating the audio component and producing written text in the target language, which is then included on the lower part of the screen, keeping the original audio untouched. Subtitling has its own challenges, revolving mostly on the prevalence of colloquial and idiomatic language and expressions, as well as on character limits and restrictions, so let us delve into some of these in order to understand the importance of relying on specialized and professional translators for any audiovisual localization job.

Fast, Informal and Culture-Specific: Challenges in AVT

Fast Turn-Around

Hollywood moves fast! With shows airing internationally, different audiences around the globe expect to be able to access episodes and even whole seasons in their own language as soon as they are available. This directly affects translators, who often have little time to work with the audiovisual content.

Colloquial Language and Dialogues

Audiovisual translators specialize in playing with puns, humor, and colloquial language, as the majority of audiovisual content to be translated is made up of informal dialogue. Jokes and nicknames can continue to develop season after season, forcing linguists to keep up and highlighting the importance of cultural background knowledge in order to successfully transfer these.

Culture-Specific Terms and Concepts

Movies and series tend to portray specific realities that come with their own terminology and surroundings. When these terms and concepts are exported to different parts of the world, translators are forced to resort to expansions and explanations in order to help the audience keep up, or to calques, making viewers imagine or find out more about a certain concept on their own. Audiovisual translators tend to resort to a mixture of the two in an attempt to maintain the foreign culture and flavor while keeping the audience in the loop.

Technology Dependent

Audiovisual translation is very much dependent on technology, and we are not talking about translation software which is generally chosen by linguists to optimize their translation process. Audiovisual translators need to work with subtitling, image processing and sound software systems which make their job possible. These generally involve a steep learning curve for language service providers, project managers and linguists alike.

Transcription and Subtitling Services

Our leading transcription services ensure that the spoken word is flawlessly converted into written form.

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