Lots of our clients ask us about video translation, because many of them are global brands or want to export abroad: and they want to know if translating their video or animation will make it more engaging and successful.

So, here are 10 tips and take-aways about video translation, foreign voiceovers and video transcription, which will help you understand and decide whether or not to translate your video.

1. Is video translation and a foreign voiceover really necessary?

It depends on what you want to achieve.

Your aim will affect whether you need to translate any text and voice, and whether or not you need to think about other elements within your video e.g. the kinds of clothes people are wearing, the food they are eating, the style of music, the way a dog barks even!

For instance, do you just want to communicate in your audience’s language e.g. French, or do you want to be perceived as a French company?

If you want to be perceived as a French company, you will be setting the bar a lot higher and be held to a much higher standard by the French audience. You will be expected to look, sound, feel and behave like a French company.

But if you simply want to enable French people to better understand your British brand and offering, by translating your communications into French, you won’t have the same burden. You’re allowed to be foreign, and to be yourself – so long as you sound credible and you’ve shown them respect.

This is what we did with one of our web pages. We get a lot of visitors logging onto our site from the Paris area, so we thought we’d create a web page and Video Guide in French, to make it quicker and easier for French people to understand our offering. We’re not trying to be a French company or do business in French. To coin a ridiculously comical cliché, we did not then throw on stripy t-shirts, garlic necklaces, recite Camus or hang a print of Magritte’s The Treachery of Images on our office wall.

A picture of Magritte's famous painting of a pipe with the words "This is not a pipe" written underneath it in French.

From purely a comprehension point of view… if your video is in a language your audience doesn’t speak fluently enough then it’s not likely to make an impact, communicate your offer or persuade them to buy it. In which case, your video will get much better engagement if it’s translated.

But that’s not always true for every video or every audience. For instance, the Dutch and Scandinavians have an exceptionally high standard of English, and in certain instances prefer to speak, read or hear English. English is also one of the main business languages of India, so if that’s your audience, it may be better to not translate.

Take-away: decide your aim and ask your audience what they would prefer.

2. What’s the difference between video translation and video transcription?

Easy: translation means, well, translating one language into another e.g. English into French. Whereas transcription means writing down the spoken content of your video so that it can be read by a person, or search engine, text-reading browser etc.

You can have transcription without translation. So, your video might have an English voiceover, for example, and that could be transcribed (written down) in English, but not translated into a different language.

Generally speaking, video transcription is a good idea because it widens your audience: it increases the number of people who can access your content, and helps them access it in the way they want and when they want.

E.g. someone may watch your video and download the transcription for later reference, rather than taking notes. Or, if they’re in a public place for instance or don’t have a good enough Internet connection to watch your video, they may choose to read the transcription instead.

If your transcription is available in HTML format, this will help search engines to crawl it, index it and serve it up in the search results – so you may gain an SEO benefit too.

3. Should we translate our video into American English?

It depends. If your audience would prefer that, or expect it, then yes. And if your message would be more quickly and better understood in American English, then yes. Translate your video. Even though the UK and US share a vocabulary, there are some distinct differences between how each population use it and what is meant by what is said.

But if there’s no valuable, meaningful or detrimental difference between the vocabulary and the meaning, then no. It’s probably not worth translating.

Brand tone of voice can also guide you on which language to use. If your brand and marketing uses American English, then you may have no option but to use American English.

Take-away: ask your audience and check with your brand manager.

4. What about humour?

This is a tricky one and depends on the nature and purpose of your video. Some jokes, slang, puns, phrases, metaphors, similes and euphemisms don’t translate because they don’t exist in the audience’s culture or language.

Even if the joke does exist and can be translated, that doesn’t mean you should use it in your script or voiceover. It may not be appropriate to joke in a business video for instance in certain cultures. In others, it may be perfectly OK.

Take-away: check with a native speaker.

An animated GIF showing four speech bubbles with yes written inside in different languages.

5. What about grammar and punctuation?

This is similar to using humour. It depends on the nature and purpose of your video, and the context it will be seen in. Some cultures can be pretty unforgiving of poor grammar and punctuation, so if you decide to translate your video, make sure it’s done by a native-level speaker who has lots of experience of the audience culture.

Take-away: check with a native speaker.

6. Should we use a male or female voiceover?

It depends! If you know your audience will respond better to your video if it had a male or female voice, then yes. Think about pitch and accent too. Would they also prefer to hear a particular accent? Our other blog article will help you understand more about how accent can affect engagement with your video. Hint: it can make a big difference.

It’s important to think about translating the music and sound effects, as well as the voiceover. Because not all dogs bark with a woof woof! Not all phones ring with a ring, ring. And not all doorbells go ding dong! Choose the wrong sound effect and your video may confuse, offend or be ridiculed.

Take-away: ask your audience.

7. Should we translate subtitles, captions and embedded text?

It depends on the content and context of your message. If you play your video with the sound off, what happens? Can your message still be understood? Will it get through on the strength of the visuals alone?

Not everyone watches video with the sound on. If they’re in public or at work, they may have the sound on at a very low level, or not at all. Some of your audience may also be deaf. In which case, subtitles and or a transcription are essential.

If there is any text that appears in the video e.g. words popping up on screen at various points that are part of the video itself, then do these need to be translated? What happens to the effectiveness of your message if they aren’t translated?

Captions – closed captions – are similar to subtitles, but offer more than a word version of the voiceover. Captions convey extra detail about what’s going on in the video e.g. the names of who is speaking or sound effects.

Take-away: understand when and where your video will be consumed.

8. How much does video translation cost?

That depends on how many words, which language, the complexity of the words and when you want it done. Most 90-second animated explainers or video productions will have 200 words in the script, so we’re not talking weeks and weeks. It’s usually a few days or a week.

Take-away: we will find this out for you, and include the cost within our quote and build that time into the production schedule.

9. How long does video translation take?

Like number 8, it depends on how many words, which language, the complexity of the words and when you want it done. Most 90-second animated explainers or video productions will have 200 words in the script, so we’re not talking weeks and weeks. It’s usually a few days or a week.

Take-away: we will find this out for you, and include the cost within our quote and build that time into the production schedule..

10. Is it safe to use Google Translate for video translation?

No. Never. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. It may be good for the odd word here or there, but if you want your video to be 100% accurate and tailored to your specific audience, get the translation done by an expert native-level speaker. If you go cheap, quick and dirty, you may as well print out your video and throw it in the bin.

Take-away: we work with Integro Languages – a most excellent and specialist translation agency – so give them a shout if you need something translated. We shout at them all the time and they love it.

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