Translation no good for voice-over?
Thread poster: Annie Beaudette

Annie Beaudette  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:30
French to English
+ ...
Mar 18, 2009

Hi everybody,

I've done a few weeks ago, a sales pitch translation. I had a strict rule to follow which was that the client wanted to keep the "um" and "ah" that were part of the interviews. I could only deleted a few of those.

The interviews were actual customers, sales people etc. In between those "um" and "ah" there were phrases, or should I say, beginning of phrases. Meaning that the person talks, says "um" and finally say it in other words. I did translate those very short "in between".

I've done the translation, had it proofreaded, and send it to my client. I sure everything was okay!

My client came back to me saying that the producer told her it was no good, according to the voice-over talent. French version was too long (didn't mention how much), he had to edit everything and he's charging her for the work.

Now, she wants to know what we're gonna do about it?

What is my job as a translator regarding voice-over translation? Am I suppose to take the responsibility to "cut" some phrases? Am I suppose to read everything in English and French, time everything to make sure it's the same length? In French, like other language, it's always a challenge (or should I say impossible) to translate a phrase that will have the exact same number of words. And give a text to 100 translators and you'll have more likely 100 different translations.

Did I miss something?

Did I do something wrong?

Is there something I should have done?

Any suggestions?

What is my job as a translator regarding voice-over translation?

What are my responsibilities for voice-over translations?

What should I tell her?

Thank you all for your help.


Silvia Carvalho  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
The importance of asking questions before a project starts Mar 18, 2009

I've been both a Localization Project Manager and a translator for 20+ years, and have been involved in Voice-over jobs on both ends as well.

As with any translation project, the Project manager handing out the project and the translator share the responsibility to ask and answer as many questions as possible to ensure the project is completely understood before it starts.

When translating a voice over script you need to keep in mind that the talent will have to synchronize the reading to the length of time for each slot in the video/dvd/etc.

It is not unlikely for a voice talent to correct a script if it is a translation from another language. This indeed is costly for the client, because not only they have to pay you for the translation, now they need to pay for the time the voice talent takes in correcting the text plus maybe even some extra studio time.

In my humble opinion the problem came from poor project managing on the client's side. He/she should have made sure you were experienced in translating texts for voice overs and should have let you know (if you weren't asking the question) about the time length issue.

I tend to charge a higher rate for translating voice over scripts as in Spanish (same as in French) more words are used than in English to express the same concept and you need to get creative without losing faithfulness to the original text. You need to be an excellent writer in the target language to translate voice over scripts.

I would take this one as a learning experience and maybe let the client know they can pay you half for this project. However, I would take the opportunity to explain that it would have been helpful to receive more information on the project. Just also remember that as a translator, it is your responsibility to ask the right questions. As a project manager, if the translator is not asking me important questions about a project that are crucial for its success I stop the project right there and get someone else who does.

Take care.
Silvia Carvalho
Translation Services Manager at Lingotek
Spanish Linguist


Clarisa Moraña  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:30
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Voice over and lipsync Mar 19, 2009

When translating for dubbing (is that the right word?) one of the most important things it to take into account time: there is a limited time for the the voice. You cannot deliver long phrases that are impossible to be said in the time frame provided for the film. Sure, you have to convey the meaning, and the ums, and ah... but keep the length.
Also, you have to see the images, trying that the actual word matches with what is seen on the screen.
Voice over is easier thann lipsync (here, you have to match the sound of words with the lips movements -well, that's not completely possible), but it always must, to limit the length of the translation.
What I ussually do is to read allow my translation, to verify its length. Not an easy job, but not impossible. Same meaning, same length. You can do it!

Kind regards



Local time: 19:30
English to Slovenian
+ ...
From the editing room ... Mar 19, 2009

I can only agree with what Silvia says and my biggest concern is always whether the clients know what they want. This inevitably includes exact timing and a bunch of other requirements. Only a thorough talk through details helps achieve the desired results for all people involved.

The way I see it from your post, a whole line of lapses occurred. You should've received a full script with durations and a video, detailed instructions of any kind. If they were not there, you should've asked for them.

From the translator's point of view, you should always keep in mind that spoken word is never the same as a written one, so it's a good idea reading the translation loud and making it pronounceable (it's very difficult to test that once you're in studio, since the time is limited and there's usually at least a few other people there, waiting for something to happen and they all have to get paid for that - utterly annoying from the producer's point of view, especially when you combine such situation with multiple languages).

Before starting the job, always ask, when in doubt, always ask. And, don't take the client's or PM's comments personally: similarly to subtitling, you have to develop some specific skills for voice-over translation. It's not "just" a translation. On the other hand, it's never ever "just" a translation, is it ...

It's nothing to be scared of, just keep in mind all the usual things: the audience, the players (are those youngster's words, elderly lady etc.), the idea ... and learn a few new.

Good luck


José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:30
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Voice-over or lip-sync dubbing? Mar 19, 2009

vesnal wrote:
my biggest concern is always whether the clients know what they want.

VO and dubbing are two different things, though they often involve the same professionals.

In VO, the person onscreen starts speaking, the volume is immediately cut down, and a VO artist speaks the translation, usually without much expression, to end just before the onscreen person ends speaking, with enough time to raise the original volume back again. So the translation needs to be shorter.

In lip-sync dubbing, an actor will interpret the translation over the original sound, to replace it completely. The translation must have good 'metrics' which means it should be possible for the artist (dubber) to sync the lip movements onscreen to his/her speech.

If you can read Portuguese (BR), I cover this and a lot more in .

On another front, it's generally not wise to dub testimonials given by non-actors. They stutter, stumble on words, change subject in the middle of a phrase etc. If this is dubbed, it looks "fake". Imagine a man speaking in front of a shiny car. It's easy to figure that his original speech about e.g. engine power could be changed into financing, insurance, acessories etc. while dubbing. I recommend subtitling in these cases. Even if the spectator doesn't understand the original language, they'll believe that they wouldn't dare to leave it there unless it matched. But this is your client's decision.


Annie Beaudette  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:30
French to English
+ ...
Thanks! Mar 23, 2009

Thanks to all of you for your cooperation, good advice and for all the information and book references that some of you send to me in my mailbox. I really appreciate it.


José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:30
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I completely forgot... Mar 23, 2009

José Henrique Lamensdorf wrote:
If you can read Portuguese (BR), I cover this and a lot more in .

The gist of it may be read in English at:


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