Choosing the most appropriate audiovisual translation technique for your content may seem complex at first. This article presents important details to consider and support your decision.


First, ask yourself, why and for whom do I need to translate this content? Audiovisual content creation has exploded in recent years due to the Internet accessibility, increase in smart devices and emerging streaming platforms.


With increasing demand; related industry opportunities, challenges and expectations are also on the rise. Globalization and technology overcome cultural and geographical barriers in record time, helping companies access new target markets with varying needs and expectations.  This is where translation makes all the difference. A great translation can build a bridge ensuring your message is understood and accepted by your target audience.

When should I consider getting audiovisual translation?

When the target audience cannot understand the material in its original version because:

  • they speak a different language.
  • they have impaired vision or hearing loss.

Once the need is detected, evaluate which technique will be best for your product and target audience.

What are my audiovisual translation options?

  • Subtitling: Use this technique to incorporate written text, typically on the lower part of the screen, without modifying the original sound.


Variations exist for speakers of other languages and people with hearing loss. Subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH) provides all dialogue and audio cues from the original video including tone of voice, screams, laughter, off screen voices, songs, etc.

  • Dubbing: There are two methods.

lip-sync: replaces the original audio with target language dialogue. New audio is synchronized so sound aligns with the original speech.

voiceover: dialogue is translated by professional translators and recorded by voice actors. It plays on a track in addition to the original audio track which runs in the background, without fully synchronizing. The voice over volume is louder and lags about a second behind the original audio track.

  • Audio description (AD):

This is an accessibility tool used to enhance content for the blind and visually impaired. In addition to the dialogue track it includes an additional track that describes what is happening onscreen or onstage.

What aspects should I consider to select the best option?

  • Material and distribution method

What audiovisual material are you going to translate? A series, a movie, a musical, an advertisement, a tutorial, or other video content? For series, movies and documentaries, the genre can help in deciding on the best technique to use.


Likewise, you should consider the channels or environments over which it will be viewed or sold: television, cinema, mobile device, personal presentations, etc. In each country cinema, network television, pay per view and streaming platforms all have varying preferences for one technique or the other. It is best to study each case before beginning your project.


When the original content includes two or more languages, it is common to use subtitling to transmit the diversity of language and/or dialects, preserving the original audio. If the original version has clips in which the actors are speaking the same language as the audience, for example, dubbing would have no value.


Using a combination of techniques can sometimes be beneficial. This mixed approach is often used in documentaries. Dubbing is commonly applied for the voice of the narrator, who may be visible or off screen; while subtitling or voiceover is more used for accounts from specialists or authorities. The mixed approach described suits this genre well, as documentaries seek to communicate real facts as transparently and objectively as possible.


If the content will be viewed on small-screen mobile devices, some form of dubbing is recommended since subtitles are difficult to read in these cases.  The same applies for videos, tutorials or presentations filled with data and graphics. In these cases, subtitles draw the audience’s attention away from important visual content. This is even more challenging when participants need to take notes in conventions or professional training sessions.


  • Audience: needs and preferences

The audience is one of the most important factors when selecting the audiovisual translation techniques to apply. Be sure to consider age, cultural preferences and habits, disabilities and special requirements.


For children or adults who do not know how to read, are slow readers or are visually impaired, you should probably use dubbing. It permits the audience to concentrate on the on-screen story, where viewers can easily identify characters and their dialogs. If the material targets people with impaired vision, use audio description. If it targets people with hearing loss use subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH).

When targeting today’s youth, they will normally prefer to view subtitled media since this technique preserves original audio accents and tones. They hear the audiovisual product in the original language and read the subtitles in their own language (also an interesting tool for those learning another language).

Customs and habits of each region or country also cause regional audiences to feel more comfortable with either dubbing or subtitling. There are pros and cons to each technique. What are the main advantages and disadvantages to each?


DUBBING ✔ Does not distract viewer

✔ Does not contaminate the image

✔ Appropriate for all ages

X Does not replace original voice and sounds

X Permits censoring and omitting content

X Loses original accents and tones

X Increases cost and production time


SUBTITLING ✔ Preserves original voice and sounds

✔ Viewers who understand the original language don’t lose any information

✔ Minimizes cost and production time

X Contaminates the image

X Distracts the viewer

X Omits information due to on-screen space limitations


  • Legislation

Some countries have legislation in place establishing audiovisual communication norms. To guarantee media sources promote and distribute information in a country’s official languages, criteria are in place to establish translation requirements and minimum volumes of native language content. Adherence is mandatory.

Along the same lines, requirements are in place to regulate the percentage of programming that must include subtitles, sign language or audio description, ensuring it is accessible to people with hearing loss.


  • Time and budget

Finally, turnaround time and budget for the deliverables resulting from the translation process must be considered.


After analyzing all these factors, if you are still not convinced to use one technique or another, cost may be the deciding factor.


Given that dubbing is more complex and involves more people (translator, sound engineer, director, voice actors), it is also more expensive and time consuming. Subtitling on the other hand requires translation and a technician or only the translator when the subtitles are not burnt in.


In summary…

There is no single variable to consider when selecting the best technique for your audiovisual translations. You must analyze the target audience, consumer preferences, distribution channels and methods, current legislation, job requirements, turnaround time and budget. Study these factors carefully to reduce the risk or purchasing the wrong service.


Regardless of the translation technique, the audiovisual content producer should never forget the initial requirement that led them to consider audiovisual translation: to deliver a clear, understandable and attractive message to the target audience.


Contact us to learn more about how to support your internationalization strategy through translation and cultural adaptation.

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