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Translation For Media Is Different Than Any Other Kind Of Translation


“It takes a Village”

Who Will Translate Your Project?

“Who will you hire to translate your project?”

Please consider carefully what I’m about to reveal. The quality and specific process of the translation is the absolute lynch pin for success or failure for all foreign language media projects.

The outcome pivots on the approach and STYLE of the translation.

The crux of the matter is, there are built-in challenges translating for video that simply do not exist in any other form of translation.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is adapting the target language script to fit the audio timings of the original narration, while maintaining a translation that is true to the source text.

A literal, technically accurate, word-for-word translation will usually be longer than the English.

For example, if an English paragraph of a narration is 20 seconds long, a literal, technically accurate translated audio script could easily be 25 to 30 seconds or more. This obviously isn’t going to work.

So what should be done to fix this? There are two possible options when the translation is too long.

One solution is to record the new language audio at its longer length, and then have the original video production company go back and add video footage to lengthen each language’s video.

Here’s the rub. While this is technically an option, this process can present a number of setbacks, such as:

• Additional video footage to extend the videos may not be available
• Additional editing time will be required, compromising deadlines and contributing additional cost to your client
• Would the video editor be qualified to edit languages he doesn’t understand?
• Additional time and cost to hire a bilingual producer to assist the video editor
• A great deal of time would be spent locating each specific edit point for each language, with each edit presenting a unique challenge
• A language reviewer would be required to go over each language’s video and request changes as necessary, once again adding time and cost overruns

The Fact is:

The necessity of doing edits like these is flat out the “Biggest Myth” of foreign language production. These adjustments can be entirely avoided with a properly translated and adapted script that fits the English language timings.

I’d like to present a better option:
The best solution is to work with a translator who has the necessary experience

of translating for media, especially video.

I will tell you from years of experience that finding an experienced translator that will deliver a translation that we actually NEED for the project is not an easy task and is the very reason I decided to write this e-book.

Why? I think you would agree that that the majority of translators do not typically translate multimedia projects. Most translators spend over 90% of their time translating printed documents – medical, legal and corporate training, for example.

Timing challenges simply don’t exist.

Translation for multimedia, especially video, requires a completely different focus and approach.

It’s normal for printed documents to be literal and technically accurate, which is exactly the problem when it comes to translating for video. A technically accurate translation is not what we need to produce video projects correctly.

To be fair to the translators, there is no reason they should know the inner workings of the technical world of video production. They are translators, not media producers. But educating them on what is needed is essential for them to deliver a great product

This is why I’m in favor of hiring a professional translator who has the necessary experience adapting a translation specifically for video.

The fact is...

It literally takes a small village of experienced professionals who can seamlessly work in concert with each other to turn an English video into a great foreign language product.

I’m sure you will agree with this as well. It’s also important to know that your team has a working knowledge of the industry being translated and take the time to reference the videos and do the necessary research to deliver a script that is not only accurate, but also colloquially, culturally and industry appropriate.

The SECRET of this entire process is: Translating for video demands a colloquial or “spoken-word” approach.

This is truly a matter of translation style:

  • Does the translation flow naturally?

  • Are the connections between sentences clear?

  • Is the message in the video communicated efficiently?

  • Does the translation fit the timings needed in the media?

A “great” media translator will smooth out any awkward, hard-to-read sentences, changing the literal to a properly conversational tone for the specific language.

One of my best Spanish voice talents who is also an expert translator, Roberto Mendoza, summarized this best:

“Translating for video needs to be written for the ears, not for the eyes. It should feel as though the script was written in the target country, not translated into the target country’s language.”
There are two benefits to this approach.

First, done well, it is the way people ACTUALLY speak. The script has a natural flow. It feels and sounds right, making it easier for the voice talent to read and the listener to understand.

The second benefit: A colloquial approach helps make the translation shorter, more efficient and, therefore, more accurately timed to match the original English audio.

We often are asked to use the language production strategy called “lip syncing”. Lip Syncing is complete dialog replacement. The English, “on camera” audio in the video is completely taken out and entirely replaced with the target language.

The amount of detail in this kind of translation work is enormous, as it must be accurately adapted to the pauses within each sentence. For this process to be effective, a colloquial approach is essential.

Some might still argue that a colloquial approach is not as accurate as a literal translation. We know this is not true!

A colloquial translation, although not a technical word-for-word translation, is a more natural and efficient way to say the same thing, while preserving the meaning of the original content. To see the truth of this, you need only to ask yourself this question:

“Are there more efficient ways to say things in English?”

The obvious answer is yes. Here’s a very simple example of this:


“Hi Bob, I will need to go down to the grocery store, and it’s too far to walk. Do you mind if I drive your car to get there?”


“Hi Bob, I need to go to the grocery store. May I borrow your car?”

It’s implied that it’s too far to walk because a car is required to get to the store. The net result is a more efficient way to say the same thing.

Fewer words... same message.

Although one script takes longer to say than the other, the content and meaning remain constant. This type of editing can happen in any language!

One of the tools I have used for decades is to make a simple bilingual, tabled, Word document for the translators to use as the deliverable to us.

There are a few rules I use in the example below.

1. The column width need to be “exactly” the same width... no changing it.

2. The font size and the font if possible need to be the same.

3. The length of each English block is the reference for how long the translation should attempt to be. This will go a long way toward resolving the timing issues.

I understand that there may be some times where it’s too difficult to accomplish and exact match. In that case we have a few production tricks we can use if we absolutely have to.

I hope this has help clear up some of the misconceptions that exist about the correct way to translate for media.


Please contact me with any questions you have.