In Technology/Innovation, Translation/Localization

In Part 1 of this Blog Series, Video is King: Engaging Diverse Audiences, we took a look at the primary options for video translation: subtitles (same and different language), closed captions, and voice over. In this Part 2, we’ll look at the practical side of how and when to use which of these tools to maximize video engagement.

A Word of Caution

In Part 1, we noted that people often watch videos online and on social media on silent, relying totally on the subtitles or captions. The need to subtitle or caption a lot of videos quickly has, of course, generated technology options.

Automation is wonderful. But be very, very wary of tools that use voice-to-text technology to auto-caption your videos. If you use voice-to-text at all in your personal or professional life, you’ve probably had at least one mishap where the technology picked the worst possible incorrect word, and probably more than one “that is totally not what I meant!” moment. I think my favorite example of this is a mom’s text to her children saying: “Dad and I are going to divorce!” After a string of “What?!?” and “Oh, no!” and similar responses, mom realized what happened. What she really meant to say was, “Dad and I are going to Disney!” Nothing will ruin the effectiveness of your video content more than messing up the content.

This same caution applies to foreign language subtitles. There are machine translation engines out there of varying levels of sophistication. Google Translate is probably the most famous. But just like speech-to-text technology makes mistakes, machine translation is nowhere near perfect. One court recently described content translated via Google Translate as “literal but nonsensical.”[1] There are countless examples online of machine translation errors that caused everything from embarrassing to life-threatening results.[2]

So, be careful of automation. Make sure you include a human review before posting any video with subtitles or captions.

Tips and Tools for Video Translation

Subtitles and Captions

When you are in the creative phase of video content creation, well before the camera rolls, there are some important things to keep in mind to ensure subtitle or caption success:

  • Screen Size. People watch videos on screens that range from just a few inches wide to a few feet wide. The amount of space available for text, then, varies. For most videos bound for social media, half or more of viewers will watch on a smartphone. Keep this in mind when creating your script. This is especially important where you plan to use foreign language subtitles, as character size and word length may vary drastically.
  • Speech Speed. Your viewers need time to read subtitles/captions while the words are being spoken. Avoid speed talkers in your videos. Not only will you run out of screen space for the text, but your viewers also may not be able to keep up.
  • Avoid Text-Heavy Images. Charts, graphs, slide decks and the like can help viewers engage more deeply in a presentation. Views will struggle, however, to both read the words being spoken and the text on these images. If you must use text-heavy images, be sure the speaker explains the image, giving the audience plenty of time to engage.

Foreign Language Subtitles

Including subtitles in other languages allows diverse audience members to engage with your video content. With the word of caution on auto-translate tools, above, in mind, the best practice for foreign language subtitles is to rely on experts to transcribe your video content, translate it appropriately for your intended audience’s language and culture, and insert the subtitles into your video. When doing so, your video translation team will help you with the following:

  • Condensing text, as necessary, to fit on the screen. The same word, phrase or message in one language may take more characters to write in another language. For example, the Arabic language just doesn’t use acronyms or abbreviations. Your video translation team has the know-how to overcome these challenges to convey your message.
  • Translating text on graphs, charts, and images. If the speaker is relying on a visual aid in the source language, subtitles may not be enough to help viewers reading the content in the target language. Your video translation team can work with you to find a solution that works to preserve your message.
  • Harmonizing with voiceover. Including subtitles in a video that also employs voiceover means ensuring that the voiceover script and the subtitles align. Your video translation team is there to make this happen for you.


Voiceover is a great option for making your video content accessible to speakers of different languages. Sometimes called “dubbing,” voiceover uses native language voice talent to record a new audio track for your video in your target language.

With voiceover, the viewer need not split attention between the on-screen action and images and the words being spoken. Hearing a native voice in the viewer’s native language likewise increases engagement. Voiceover is particularly useful in the following situations:

  • Two or more speakers. When there are two more voices in the video, voice over helps differentiate the speakers. While subtitles can use cues like [Speaker 1] and [Speaker 2] or [Bob] and [Mary] to differentiate, these take up space on the screen and can be difficult to follow.
  • Off-Screen Speaker. Where the speaker is not shown on the screen at all, voice over is a great option. There is no need to worry about matching up the timing between the source language being spoken and the target language voice over.
  • Text-Heavy Images. Where text-heavy images are integral to the video, voiceover is often the best choice. With voice over, the viewer need not split his or her attention between the images on the screen and the text of the script.
  • Lengthy Videos. Most viewers will read the subtitles on a video for a few minutes. If the video is truly intriguing, the viewer will often switch to audio. Voiceover combined with subtitles, then, provides full engagement opportunities for viewers in other languages.

Whether you use video content to market your products or services, educate your consumers, employees, or the public, or to delight and entertain, video translation will help you maximize engagement. Vocalink Global’s video translation team combines localization experts with transcriptionists, translators, reviewers, and voice talent to bring your video content to life for your audiences at home and around the world. Want to learn more? Connect with us today!


[1] For more on this, read our blog entitled “Court Rules ‘Literal but Nonsensical’ Google Translation Not Enough for Consent.”

[2] Check out this study from thebmj for some examples of how Google Translate mistranslated very important medical phrases like “your child’s condition is life threatening,” which became “your child’s state is not life stopping.” BMJ 2014;349:g7392, available at: [emphasis added].

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