woman translating audiovisual content

What’s the best way to adapt your audiovisual content for a new international market? Translated subtitles or transcripts? Local voice-overs or dubbing?

And how do you find the right agency or freelancer who you can trust to adapt your content faithfully into a language you don’t speak?

Below we’ll cover the four most common types of audiovisual translation services and a checklist of 10 key questions to ask any agency or freelancer in the hiring process—plus a list of red flags to watch out for.

We’ve also included a case study from our very own audiovisual translation work at VeraContent at the end, so make sure to read the whole article!

Learn more about the challenges of audiovisual translation and VeraContent’s process in our article.  

Which audiovisual translation services are right for you?

a camera recording a video of a woman

Audiovisual translation is the conversion of audio dialogue in a video into other languages—whether it’s a movie, a TikTok video or an Instagram Reel. 

Here are the five major formats of audiovisual translation services to consider for your brand’s content:

1. Subtitling or “subbing” 

Subtitles are the lines of text added to the bottom of the screen in visual media that transcribe the spoken dialogue. 

Subtitles simultaneously translate the spoken dialogue from one language to another for those who can hear but don’t understand the video’s original language.

Captions, meanwhile, simultaneously transcribe every bit of audio, whether it’s spoken dialogue or sound effects. They improve accessibility and inclusivity—for those who aren’t native speakers of a language but also for the 430 million people worldwide who belong to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. 

Plus, while video content is the future of media consumption, viewers aren’t always able to listen to audio. In fact, 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound. Subtitling provides a way to allow viewers to watch content while on-the-go. One study by Facebook found that captions increase video views by 12% compared to videos without captions. 

Because of this, translated subtitles are necessary even if you don’t localize the video.

“You have split seconds to capture your audience on social media. If the translation is off, they’re not going to be interested.”

Kyler Canastra, Head of Business Development at VeraContent

Subtitles can also boost SEO. Google likes it when pages have informational video content, and providing subtitles allows it to scan your content more easily. When Google can better read the keyword relevance in your videos, it can lead to a higher ranking. 

For an example of subtitling, see VeraContent’s partnership with IE University to subtitle their “Next Best You” campaign

Also read: How important is subtitling on social media?

2. Dubbing

Dubbing refers to replacing the original dialogue with a simultaneous, spoken translation. The original dialogue is completely removed.

Dubbing as a service is often paired with its subcategory, lip-syncing. Lip-sync is the synchronization of an onscreen actors’ lip movement to the new language, making it less obvious that the video has been dubbed. With lip-syncing, the video translation must be carefully timed so it perfectly matches the onscreen actor’s lip movements and pauses. 

If lip-syncing sounds too complicated, fear not. A recent study by Amazon provides evidence that says audiences might not be as sensitive to a lack of lip-syncing as previously thought. In fact, there’s a so-called “dubbing effect” where audiences subconsciously avoid looking at onscreen actors’ mouth movements when watching an unsynced video. 

The decision for “dubbing” over “subbing” depends on your multilingual marketing strategy and also your target markets. Some countries or regions might prefer or be more accustomed to dubbing over subbing. For example, in France, audiences are split halfway in their preference for subtitles over dubbing, while in Germany, the majority of audiences prefer dubbing. 

There’s also intralingual dubbing, which is the translation into regional dialects or accents. This is often the case with Spanish, which is often split into separate dubs for Spain and Latin America. 

See also: Which Spanish language variant is best when marketing to a global audience?

3. Voice-overs

Often confused with dubbing, voice-overs are a form of translation where the newly translated dialogue is overlaid on top of the original dialogue, with the original being slightly muted. With voice-overs, there’s no attempt to hide the fact the video has been voiced-over, so there’s no effort to synchronize lip movements.

Voice-overs are not ideal for most audiovisual translations, as the original audio can be distracting. We wouldn’t recommend this for a professional brand looking to fully connect with international audiences.

Similar to voice-overs is lektoring, a niche voice-over style that’s mainly used in Poland. The technique consists of one-person reading of all the translated dialogue without any emotion. Polish audiences are so used to this form of voice-over, that Netflix even made it the default for Polish audio in foreign-language content.

4. Translated transcription

Transcription is the transformation of original audio into text. While not typically a translation service, transcription can be paired with non-visual content like podcasts or music lyrics. 

As a marketing tool, it can be useful for repurposing visual or audio content like podcasts, in-person conferences or YouTube videos into blog posts or Twitter threads. You can then translate your transcriptions to repurpose and localize for other languages.

Video transcription also provides accessibility for users who use screen-readers, which is software that reads written text out loud for a user. 

Beyond improving accessibility, they also boost search results. In fact, according to one study, pages with transcripts earned 16% more revenue than they did prior to adding transcripts.

See also: Inclusive content: Why it matters and how to get started

5. A combination of all these audiovisual translation services

So, which service is right for you? Likely, it’s not just one of the above. Most international brands use a combination of all these audiovisual localization services. What will work with your brand is determined by your overall marketing translation strategy.  

Consulting an audiovisual translation agency like VeraContent can help you find the right approach for your goals. It’s important to trust that the agency you work with has the experience to know the best solution.

Now let’s look at 10 questions to ask when considering an audiovisual translation agency.

Checklist: 10 questions for interviewing agencies about audiovisual translation services

Shaheen and Kyler podcast hosts

When choosing the right audiovisual translation agency, be sure to ask these question in the interview stage:

Also see our frequently asked questions page about working with VeraContent.

1. What are your areas of expertise? 

Most agencies specialize in a specific type of content. Check that the agency you’re screening aligns with the type of work you’re wanting to do. 

For example, translating medical documents takes a very different skillset to adapting song lyrics for highly creative music videos.

2. What experience do you have with projects in the same target language/region?

If an agency you’re interviewing predominantly works in a language market or region that’s not your focus, you might have concerns about their ability to properly connect with your target audiences. Even if their translators work in the same language, are they familiar with your region’s local slang, idioms or pop culture references? 

“You need to really connect with the locals in the market you’re trying to reach—whether they’re your colleagues, customers or people in your network—to make sure the strategy you’re creating applies to their reality. Otherwise, what you’re doing is not useful at all and won’t work.”

Mário Costa, marketing and communications director at MANZ

3. How do you verify your translators? 

Not all companies screen their linguists in the same way—or to the same standard. If you prefer their translators have a certain credential, be sure to ask if they have that information on hand. 

See also: Marketing translators: Ultimate hiring manager’s guide

4. What’s your process and can it be customized to our needs? 

It’s also a good idea to ask the agency to take you through their process to get a better understanding of their workflow. Or, if you have a certain workflow that you require the agency to adapt to, then explain it to them beforehand to see if it’s the right fit.

See also: Multilingual content production: A five-step process

VeraContent’s CEO, Shaheen Samavati, and head of business development, Kyler Canastra, discuss VeraContent’s editorial process during this interview

5. What does your quality control process look like? 

Related to question four, you should ask how they guarantee quality and consistency. Not only will knowing their process help you get a sense of their time frame for deliverables, but it’ll give you insight into their quality control process. Are they assessing and verifying all information? 

Often in the translation process, quality control involves either one or multiple editing stages by various linguists. 

For example, at VeraContent, we have a two-step process for translations:

  • First, with a native linguist who creates the translation. 
  • Second, another native linguist edits and verifies the translation and all the information. 

Depending on the complexity of the content—and how creative it is—you made need several talented translators to get involved. This is how we approached song lyric translation for Sony Music Spain, for example.

6. What is your technological infrastructure like and can it support this work? 

Videos can take a long time to upload and download, so technological restraints like bandwidth and storage can be a concern. Plus, you’ll want to know what applications they use, such as Adobe Creative Suite or other software.

It’s also important to check whether they use AI at all in their process. And, if they do, how do they ensure that all AI video translations are quality controlled.

See also: Top 8 localization tools to optimize all your digital content

7. Who will I be working with? Is there a dedicated account/project manager assigned to us? 

Knowing who you’re working with is always helpful. Typically, any translation project will require an account manager to handle administrative tasks and a project manager to oversee the actual work and coordinate with the linguists. Sometimes these roles might be combined—but it’s good to ask, especially before a problem comes up and you’re not sure who to turn to. 

8. Do you keep style guides for clients to promote consistency?

Translation projects often require following a list of commonly-used phrases or terms that need to be translated the same way every time. How an agency might handle this can vary—at VeraContent, we create style guides for each client and also store this information in our CAT tool.

Regardless of how they do it, an agency that prioritizes consistency will probably have some sort of glossary they can give to linguists to ensure the same concept isn’t described in different ways.

9. What questions do you have for us

Any good interview isn’t just one-sided. It’s an exchange of credentials and information to see if it’ll be a good fit for both sides. 

Any professional audiovisual translation agency will ask you follow-up questions, likely about your subtitle style requirements and any source text templates. They might also ask about changing video lengths, extra footage, specifications for video files, etc. 

10. What are others saying? Do you have any client testimonials?

Lastly, what is their reputation? Do they have a history of providing top-tier audiovisual translation services for companies with projects similar to yours? Have their clients won any awards for their multilingual marketing? 

Red flags: What to be wary of when hiring an agency or freelancer for audiovisual translation services

Audiovisual translation agency getting interviewed by global brand

Here are some red flags to be aware of when looking for the right translators: 

1. Are they overpromising? 

The truth is, Google and social media platforms are tricky—and they’re changing their algorithms all the time. Getting content to rank highly or go viral takes time, skills, creativity and a bit of luck. If someone is promising you big, bold numbers of how far they can take your content overnight, be wary. 

2. Do they have a track record of successful translations? 

Is their work connecting with local audiences?

Ask to see work samples of past projects or client testimonials. If they don’t have much to offer or they’re reluctant to share, it’s hard to gauge the quality of their services or if their specialization fits your brand. 

Quality content also includes technical elements. Take a look at their content and watch out for poorly synchronized subtitles, awkward lip-synching in their dubs or overly-long subtitle lengths (the optimal length is usually around 42 characters). 

That said, it’s not necessary to be familiar with all the requirements of audiovisual translation. What’s most important is assessing if the subtitles, dubbing or transcriptions in your language make sense and feel effective as a viewer. 

3. Are they working with qualified translators? 

Translation is a professional service, and it’s not enough to simply be bilingual. Professional translators are often certified by bodies like the American Translators Association

Especially when it comes to transcreating (that is, the act of going beyond just literal conversions from one language to another), you want to be working with local translators who understand not only the language but also a market’s unique cultural and emotional values. 

“With transcreation, translators can take texts and really put their own twist on them so that the same message resonates in a new market.”

Kyler Canastra, Head of Business Development at VeraContent

See also: Translation vs. localization: What’s the difference and why should you care?

Sony Music Spain: A case study

English lyrics from Nathy Peluso’s Emergencia

Spanish music is crossing linguistic barriers like never before and becoming increasingly popular worldwide, especially in the US. The demand for lyrical translations into English has never been higher. 

As the Spanish division of Sony Music Entertainment, Sony Music Spain is responsible for representing, producing and distributing Spanish music globally. That’s why Sony Music Spain asked VeraContent to translate popular Argentinian artist Nathy Peluso’s single, Emergencia, into English alongside the release of PlayStation’s “Horizon Forbidden West” video game. 

Translating music takes far more creativity than your average project. Lyrics are more like poetry than prose, so they contain more slang, idioms and sentence fragments. The artist’s creative wordplay and mix of Spanglish and slang made it difficult for previous translations to capture the “feel” of her songs or express her unique personality and lyrical voice. 

As the translators, we needed to translate the lyrics as well as convey the artist’s unique style, character and nuance instead of just trying a literal conversion. We worked with two linguists who were familiar with the artist and her style and could carefully convey each concept in a way that sounded natural in English.

The results: In only three days, we provided an audiovisual translation that allowed the artist to share her vision for her song with English-speaking audiences worldwide. We’re proud to say the English translation of Emergencia retains the same soul and story as the original Spanish version. 

The music video for Emergencia was released on YouTube on 18 February 2022 and gained nearly 3.4 million views and 122 thousand likes in its first month. As of June 2023, it has 7.7 million views. 

After the success of our translation, Sony Music Spain again asked us to collaborate on another Nathy Peluso single, Estás buenísimo.

According to our client at Sony Music Spain:

“VeraContent is the only translation solution we’ve worked with that could accurately adapt the Spanish lyrics into English while capturing all the nuances and context of the song—and also reflecting the artist’s unique voice, writing style and power.” 

Read our client story on Sony Music Spain for details on how we transformed the Spanish lyrics of Nathy Peluso’s Emergencia to English.

Ask the right questions to find the right agency

To ensure you find an audiovisual translation agency that fits your needs, ask the right questions, verify their references and, above all, trust your gut. There are many translators out there, but audiovisual translation is a unique type of work. The saying goes, “content is king,” but it’s really quality content that succeeds.

At VeraContent, we partner with brands looking to connect with global markets without losing their core message. To learn more about how we can help and if you qualify for a free content consultation,  reach out to us today