Things to consider when localising subtitles and voiceovers

Ian Abernathy
When translating audiovisual presentations from one language to another, it is paramount to localize content. We have compiled a list of the best things to consider when localising subtitles and voiceovers - including some surprising tips that will give you a leg up on the competition.

Localising content is of great importance when targeting online products and services to remote geographic locations. While not difficult per se, the process entails more than simply translating copy word for word. All parts of a website should be localised in order to support a well-rounded business. Concerning audiovisual presentations, even the subtitles and voiceovers should be localised by native translators, to numerous logistical and cultural benefits. Here are the things to know when localising subtitles and voiceovers.


A predominant issue faced by translators of AV projects is fitting localised subtitles onto the screen. Since English is frequently utilized as the “original” language for audiovisual presentations, the resulting translation often expands much longer in characters and syllables. Indeed, many languages are significantly longer on the page than others. For instance, the German language is roughly 30% longer than English; Russian staggers around 40%! This is the basis for creating space in the original voiceover, so it can be localised more naturally by translators.


Text which has been translated into a new language is often difficult to syncopate with the original. Once again, this is why it’s helpful to localise – some translators are uniquely skilled at taking source text and applying it to the relevant language. By using apt words and phrases, native translators can add or remove space in their speech depending on the confines of the original voiceover.

Yuqo quotesColloquial terms can help to cut back on unnecessary swaths of text. Furthermore, localising subtitles creates a more credible product for the target consumers in mind.

In terms of readability, long-winded and verbatim translations detract from the professional appearance of the products or services being sold. What’s more, they distract from the information being conveyed. Having too many words on the screen is visually unappealing and ultimately derails the intent of communicating information – it can also be pretty hard to keep up with!


Another issue facing translators of audiovisual projects is allowing time for the local voiceover artist to fit the translated speech into the space allotted. The best way to limit artists from having to work double time is to create space in the original voiceover. This allows for the translator to localise the speech and fit it in as closely as possible to the timing of the speech in the original language. Original voiceovers that are spoken with conversational cadence will be hard to localise without the translator rushing their piece and consequently throwing the presentation off pace.


A roadblock many online businesses run into is partially localising the content. Not only should subtitles and voiceovers be localised, the font, music, images, and all supporting marketing materials should be optimized for the target group as well.
Only localising a portion of a presentation will diminish its credibility with local consumers.
Only localising a portion of a presentation will diminish its credibility with local consumers. Especially in markets experiencing low levels of unemployment and high rates of online sales (such as the German market), it is important to localise with precision. By winning over a local consumer base, it allows businesses to successfully tap into new, exciting opportunities around the world.


While it may seem inconsequential, something as simple as an ill-conceived song choice can unintentionally offend a local audience with obscure or irrelevant references. The same rule can be applied to any and all visual imagery.
Typeface and other design elements can be localised as well. Believe it or not, font is a variable that changes in popularity from one region to the next. Just because Helvetica might be used a lot in one European country doesn’t mean it is in the next country over.


Although translators who are fluent in a second language can be of some assistance in localising content, native first-language speakers enjoy the most wholesome understanding of the complex structure of their specific dialect. In a perfect setting, the voiceovers recorded in the original language would be timed with localised translation in mind. Since some translations are not pre-planned, this can be hard to achieve with limited resources. Therefore, native translators are the ones to work with to achieve succinct, localised AV translations.