Audiovisual translation: what it is, and how you can get it right

09, Sep 2021

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Audiovisual translation: what it is, and how you can get it right



Audiovisual translation — also known as multimedia translation — is the translation of the verbal elements in media, which besides language include image and sound, or both. Translating the lyrics of a song, the words on a slideshow, or the narration in a product demo video, are all examples of multimedia translation.

Where the original material includes both image and sound, the most common modes of multimedia translation are dubbing and subtitling. Both sound rather simple, but translation is rarely simple, and audiovisual translation is no exception. 

Challenges specific to audiovisual translation

In subtitling, the first challenge is the limit on the number of characters that can be onscreen at the same time. When the translation of the actual speech would take more space than what is available, the translator must recreate the sentences using shorter or fewer words, while remaining as close as possible to the original, and not exceeding two lines subtitle. 

When it comes to dubbing, the most obvious challenge is timing. The dubber must speak the translated words so that they match the onscreen speaker’s facial movements.

Other common challenges in multimedia translation

Besides the obstacles specific to dubbing and subtitling, multimedia translation comes with the same challenges that ordinary text translation presents. 

If you are having your corporate material translated, these are the most likely stumbling blocks your translators will come across:

  • Puns: plays on the meaning and spelling or words in one language can seldom be translated into another. So if your video advertisement relies strongly on a pun for effect, your translation agency will need to transcreate it — which means recreating it on purpose for the target language.
  • Proverbs, sayings and idioms: though these often have a language-specific form, many of them do exist in other languages. For instance, the English idiom “between a rock and a hard place” does have a correspondent in Portuguese — “entre a espada e a parede”, which literally means “between the sword and the wall”. It’s an entirely different phrase, but with the exact same meaning. When it comes to proverbs, a good example is the English proverb “birds of a feather flock together”, whose Spanish version is “dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres”  — literally, “tell me who you spend time with, and I’ll tell you who you are”. It’s important that your translation services provider knows the correct way of rendering any kind of language-specific saying in the target language. 
  • Culture-specific references: these are trickier. Just think of all those baseball metaphors in American movies. They make no sense to an audience that is unfamiliar with the US national sport. (And that means most audiences in the world.) In such cases, the translator must choose between adapting the reference to the target culture, and dropping it altogether.
  • Colloquial terms, slang, dialect: from video games to commercials, a translator must find the closest equivalent to the original in the target language.
  • Acronyms: an acronym that reads well in one language may be offensive or ridiculous in another. Just think of ASCO — the acronym for the American Society of Clinical Oncology. It’s perfectly harmless in English, but in Portuguese and Spanish “asco” means “loathing, disgust, repugnance”. So the ASCO would do well to have a translation agency recreate that acronym for their South American summits.

As these examples show, audiovisual translation, like all kinds of translation, is more complex than it looks. But when done right, it can strengthen your professional image and attract better partners and prospects. 

If you need audiovisual translation services, do let us know. We work with a team of highly qualified translators, transcreators and localizers from AMER, EMEA and APAC countries. And we’ll be delighted to provide the solution for your translation needs.





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