Battle of the Foreign Language Services

When producing video for audiences where English isn’t their first language, choosing the right method to convey your message can make all the difference to how it’s perceived. For producers it is crucial to understand what dubbing, subtitling and voice over provides to find the most suitable option. A quick look at each definition will set the stage for the ultimate three-round battle of the foreign language services.

Foreign Language Services – Key Definitions

Voice over The voice is not part of the storyline and is spoken by a person who does not appear on screen. This is often in the form of commentary but also appears in adverts and educational material. 

Dubbing Replacing the original dialogue with one produced by voice actors in a different language, or to put voice to animations. 

SubtitlingText that translates or transcribes the narrative and appears on screen in films, television programs, and video games.

How do the foreign language services differ?

Round 1:  Voice over vs. Dubbing 

The main difference between voice over and dubbing is the fact that voice overs are off screen. On the other hand, dubbing replaces the original dialogue and is part of the on-screen action. You can also see voice over as an omnipresent voice in a narrative style, whereas dubbing is more active. Dubbing requires the voice actor to show versatility in emotion through their voice. 

When it comes to choosing which is right for your project, you need to consider two things. Are there animate characters, or are you telling a story in the style of a David Attenborough documentary? Voice overs can also be used on top of original sound in a ‘UN-style’ production. This way the listeners can take in the original speaker’s tone and emotion. 

Both options are great ways to localise your content. Voice over offers an opportunity for creative storytelling or directly translates information to a new audience, whereas dubbing works best when you want to ensure the message really sinks in through natural dialogue. 

Round 2: Dubbing vs. Subtitles 

These two disciplines may seem like an unfair match – much like putting a heavyweight and a featherweight boxer up against each other. However both have their benefits and the winner may not be as obvious as you might think. 

The art of the subtitler is to translate and recount the right message in 70 characters across a maximum of 12 words on two lines. This means that the choice of words is crucial and there is very little wiggle room. Dubbing on the other hand gives you more freedom to make sure speech is coming across exactly as intended through emotive language and change in pitch and intonation. One thing to note is that subtitling is oftentimes more economical, however that doesn’t reduce the benefits it brings.  

Thinking about your audience will help determine which is the right contender to choose. What language do they speak? What script do they read? Are they hard of hearing? Is the content of a highly technical nature? Other factors to consider is whether the video has existing on screen text as subtitling may obscure important information. However, subtitles really enhance the exposure to new cultures and expressions, but on the flipside they can take away from focusing on the action on screen as the viewer is busy reading. Dubbing can create a seamless illusion of the characters really speaking your language – but, it can create a sense of whitewashing with homogeneous environments. 

Round 3: Subtitles vs. Voice Over 

In the match between subtitles and voice over there are actually more similarities than differences. They both can preserve the original language and offer a great insight into the nuances of the original content. They are also both easy to adapt for easy distribution across different language markets. 

Again, taking your audience into consideration is the first step; what are their needs and how do they get the most out of the video? Secondly the nature of the content will play a big role. Does it benefit from a word for word translation, or can it still be understood through paraphrasing? If there is a lot of information to take in, and the viewer needs to pay close attention to what is happening on the screen, a voice over may be preferred. On the other hand, if the content is lighter in nature and the audience can follow the storyline while reading, subtitles may be the go-to. 

Ding, ding, ding! The ringside judges give their decision… 

Everyone’s a winner here as each service has its own strength. It is up to producers to determine which service will give their target audience video content in a format that fits them best. 


Need help with subtitling, dubbing or voice over?

Regardless of whether you need voice, language or sound, The Voiceover Gallery can help make your project come to life! Reach out to our localisation team to learn how. 

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