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Monika Bujanowicz
December 22, 2022
16 min read

Video Translation Errors: from Subtitling to Voiceover

video translation process in progress



There are numerous advantages of properly localized video content. It brings more sales. It allows clients to get familiar with the offer faster. It builds trust in the brand. It makes customer service work more efficiently. But the keyword to achieve this is proper video localization.


You can translate your video using a few flagship ways. The best thing about it is that you may choose all of them (if you have the budget, yes, video localization is expensive and can be a pain sometimes), but you also may go with just one and it will work for your content and business.


One of those ways is subtitling and actually, it's the minimum your video should have to appeal to a multilingual audience worldwide. We understand, voiceover and dubbing can cost piles of money. If you multiply it by the number of languages you want your audiovisual materials to be in, things stop looking pretty. In this context, subtitling emerges as a reasonable solution that will deliver results. And don't forget English captions. That's the thing you should start with, actually.


For sure, you have already read everything available on the Internet, so we won't be bothering you with the stuff you already know. Yes, we know that many of us say the same things and we all look the same to you. That's why let us tell you what everyone else is afraid to discuss.


Let's talk video translation errors!


Video Translation Mistakes


We’ve already covered what is the video localization process, how to prepare for it, and what are the true costs of translating video content. Now, let’s explore some mistakes that are easily avoided by having a good comprehension of the video localization process.


Relying on Auto Translation Apps 


google translation app


A lot of things these days can be automated. It’s said that automation is our future. With progress and globalization, we’ve started to see apps that can automate just about anything. Translations as well. But, there is one big but in this sort of fast, cheap, automated translation service: the quality.


Machine translation is not bad by definition, it can be a go-to solution for many. It's just you need to know how to use it in order not to harm your content. High visibility needs high awareness.


To get a properly localized video, it’s impossible to simply rely on automated apps. The amount of mistakes in machine-created texts is astonishing. Not to mention that no real human native speaker will ever believe that such text is translated by another human being who knows how to properly use the language.  


This type of service makes the translated video sound off and discourages potential clients from using the service or buying a product. Which is exactly the opposite of the effect that business wants to achieve with localized video. 

Translating video like translating texts 


Cooperation with translators and proofreaders is always a good thing. One thing to keep in mind is this: there are people who specialize in translating certain types of content. There may be someone who can easily translate instruction manuals or marketing content like newsletters or blog posts.  


Some translators specialize in video materials. And they know about certain must-haves of video localization. For example, video translations need to be as short and at the same time as informative as possible to make them fit in 2 lines of text that will be embedded in the video. Translations also have to be long enough to put the voice soundtrack over a specific length between the time codes of the video. Not everyone knows that. And not everyone knows how to do that.


Translating with No Video Reference Material


Getting the source material from the client is a must when preparing a localized version of the video. It is simply impossible to check if the words fit into lines and don’t cover the visual content. Or, putting technicalities aside, if the overall tone of voice is more cheerful, more serious, or more professional. Knowing about any potential video sound effects and when they occur? Without the reference file - impossible. Localizing video is not just putting the words on paper. It’s making the words fit into the overall style and creating a positive impression for the audience after watching the final, translated version.


Translating the Speech Only 


translating speech symbol


Localizing video should not focus only on the spoken word. The voice audio that is combined with visuals, or dialogs is just as important as any text that is included in the visuals as well. Translating any disclaimers is a must in certain countries. Without them, the entire content might be questioned by authorities as misleading, especially in any health-related industries. Translating any important texts appearing on the screen is needed when the video provides a visual story that only in a small mart is enhanced by voice over, for example in explainer videos or product tutorials. Calls to action (like Get a free demo! Signup now! Buy now!) are more distinguished and engaging when translated into the local language. Great video localization service providers never forget about this. There are plenty of them to choose from: professional subtitlers, captioning specialists, linguists, professional translators, voice-over experts,


Translating with No QA Process


video localization quality testers at work


Having a second pair of eyes to look at the final version of the localized video is a must. Proofreaders and editors will catch any typos, grammar, or logic mistakes and can suggest edits to make the content more audience-friendly. They will help the brand look more professional and trustworthy. Translating with no quality assurance process is especially dangerous when paired with new, miracle-promising automated translation applications.






Related content: How Much Does It Cost to Translate a Video? [Rates, Factors & Savings]







Subtitling Mistakes


scrabble word caption


Adding subtitles to the video looks like the simplest task in the video localization book. However, for someone unfamiliar with how video translations need to be done, the final effect can be different from the initially expected.


Using Literal Translations and Idioms


This one is a doozy and can cause a lot of misunderstanding. Each language has its specific idioms, sentences that mean something different than the words suggest. Translating idioms literally can be potentially dangerous. The small danger is that your company will come across as silly, and the big danger is that it will come off as unprofessional. We think it’s better to avoid this and localize video subtitles in accordance with the culture code of local audiences. What are some examples of literal idiom translations?




The idiom: 猫の手も借りたい 

Literal translation: “Willing to borrow a cat’s paws.”* 

What it means: “You’re so busy that you’re willing to take help from anyone.”  




The idiom: Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof. 

Literal translation: “I only understand the train station.” 

What it means: “I don’t understand a thing about what that person is saying.’” 




The idiom: Bułka z masłem. 

Literal translation: “It’s a roll with butter.” 

What it means: “It’s really easy.” 

[source of the examples]


Unreadable Fonts


many unreadable fonts


We’ve all been there: sitting in the cinema or watching Netflix or Amazon Prime, a foreign movie comes in. We turned on the subtitles and… they are off. Impossible to read fonts or texts that disappear faster than we can read them. Do you know what it means? That subtitle translation for this particular content was done by someone who doesn’t know a lot about video localization.  


The same thing can happen to any business video or content for our foreign clients.


What makes the fonts unreadable in our audience’s eyes?


  • Too small or too big fonts 
  • Texts breaking into more than two lines 
  • Texts covering the video 
  • No dark overlay under the usually white text 
  • Too fast or too slow text appearance 


Hiring the right subtitling services provider helps to avoid it.


Using a Wrong Language Version


remote with language and subtitle selection options


What is a language version? It’s basically a version of the language that is characteristic of a group of certain language speakers; it comes with possible linguistic or word definition differences. Just think about the English language as it’s easier to understand for most people who only get to know about language version concepts.


There’s British English and there’s American English. Both the UK and the U.S. language speakers will understand each other. But even for native speakers, this understanding can be a bit difficult if they use different words to describe the same things: elevator - lift, or wallet - purse, or truck - lorry. It’s important to know where the video will be displayed, or - in the case above - if most of the clients or traffic comes from the States or the UK. This can help to decide which version of the language to choose.


While we’re on the subject of language versions, spelling mistakes are something worth mentioning. Of course, at times, spelling mistakes can happen. Proper proofreading can help to eliminate them. But in the case of language versions it’s utterly important to pick a language version and stick to it, be consistent, and use only one version: color - colour, or humor - humour.






Related content: 3 Things to Expect From Voice Over Companies for the Best Outcome






Subtitles vs Captions: What's the Fuss about?


This one is not a mistake but it will enable you to avoid costly mistakes in the future. Let's dive in very quickly.


The process of subtitling and captioning has one main result that interests viewers: the text they see at the bottom of the screen (yeah, positioning is another subject here). But here the similarities end.


Caption is a transcription of a dialogue. It helps viewers who cannot hear the audio of the video.


Subtitle provides a translation for viewers who don't understand the language spoken on the screen of a TV, smartphone, laptop, tablet, or any other device you're using to watch the video.


So, in audiovisual translation, subtitling is needed to show the translation of written text for transcribed audio in the target language. Closed captions (CC) will show the transcription of the original language.


Closed captions will also include audio description information, such as background noise, information about speakers, and more for the hard-of-hearing viewers and other target audience that needs such data to use the content effectively.


The great thing about CC is that you can switch them off. Unlike open captions. They are permanently visible in videos, movies, or on your TV screen (yes, we are aware that DVD is long gone).


Usually subtitle files come in SRT, VTT, and TTML (and a few more, actually) formats.


Last but not least, SDH subtitles. These are subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. But what's most important, they contain all the information from captions and subtitles and can be in the source language of the content.


We’ve covered some more interesting languages with specific examples of language versions in use in this article. Bookmark it for later, it’s an interesting read.


Voiceover and Dubbing Mistakes


voiceover and dubbing software at work


In some countries, videos with voice over are most common, in others videos with dubbing are the standard way of localizing videos. It is up to you (or your translation service provider) to know the good practices when entering certain target markets. Whichever way you decide to use it for your business, certain mistakes often happen along the way. The best professional video translation agencies won’t let them happen. 


Choosing Wrong Voice Actors 


wrong voice talent recording audio


The context of the video and its visual content is a good guide on who to hire as a voice over or dubbing actor. What does it mean that the actor is wrong for the part? Too elderly-sounding or too childlike-sounding actors who give their voice to a middle age character in the video is just one example. Another example would be someone really, really famous or well-booked. The risk here is that your brand video will sound just like any other brand on the local market, with no differentiation from similar services or offers. Depending on context and market research, gender may also play a big role here.


Did you know that female voices build more trust in voiceover than male voices? But, when it comes to selling a car to a man - male voices convince 28% of people, and female voices convince only 7%.


Another example would be choosing an actor speaking with an accent different from your audience. For example, if the video is targeted at people in Australia, an American speaking with a Texan accent is not the best way to go. Someone with a Scottish accent would be equally wrong for a video voice over aimed at Canadians.


Recording Speech with No Professional Equipment 


unprofessional and outdated recording device


Nowadays, more and more people have access to semi-professional equipment. Professional voice actors will often have a very nice set of tools at hand too. However, the DIY recording style is not really something we’re looking for when creating any voice track for localized videos. The soundtracks need to be clear of any background noises that disturb the speech. Mixing it with the video part in the post-production process has to be easy for the video creator and sound engineer, otherwise, the recordings have to be repeated.


That’s why it’s better to research and check if the translation agency offers high-quality audio recordings that can be mixed and reused. You’d be surprised how many just won’t pay attention to that. And this usually results in numerous errors in every possible part of the video.


Recording Speech the Way Your Audience Won’t Understand


a person recording voice with an amateur phone app


The main purpose of creating translated videos is for the foreign audience to understand it better in their language than in the original version. That’s why the speech has to be clear and easily understandable. What makes the voice audio not clear?


  • Voice actors speaking too fast or too slow 
  • Dull speech style that bores the audience 
  • A too-formal or too-cheerful style that won’t go along with visuals 
  • No change of the tone of voice 


Voices Not Matching the Video Content


public speaker


This point is somewhat connected to the previous one: unclear speech. It happens when it’s easy for the audience to observe a disconnection between the on-screen actor’s mouth and the voice that comes along with it - this can happen a lot in dubbing. In voice over it is apparent when on-screen actors finish the scene and the speech goes over to the next scene. The audience can spot it instantly and may feel uneasy when seeing such differences. 



Tools for Video Translations


video shoot start


If you’re thinking about in-house video translations, the most important thing we suggest is to make sure the final product has no mistakes. Getting a native speaker or someone near-native to check the content is always a good idea. There are many tools that you can use, depending on the type of translation work you need to get done.  


For example, publishing videos on YouTube gives creators a lot of freedom when it comes to content editing. The platform’s internal tools available in Studio let users translate and add subtitles to videos on their own, but also with the help of the community. It's a pretty interesting idea for brands that have a small budget but also have generous and engaged communities.


Some other tools that can be of help here are, PoEditor, VidIQ, Subtitle Edit (even Netflix uses that one), MateSub, or Final Cut Pro with Simon Says plugin. Like with any other new tool introduced to the company, there’s a learning curve that can take some time. If you’re not into getting yet another tool for your company, or just simply have no time to do that and are on a tight schedule, there is a simple and great solution. Hire a video translating agency.


Your video translation agency will have any tools that are necessary to conduct the entire process. Depending on the offer they can either get you properly localized texts and video materials; or work with voice actors to deliver soundtracks; or prepare the final localized version from start to finish.  


Having professionals working on your company videos cuts the time necessary to prepare for video localization and comes with a proven quality assurance process.


Watch It!




Don't forget that the future of video localization is here already. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) there are more and more solutions that enable you to subtitle and voice over your videos faster, cheaper and better. You don't have to wait weeks for your video to have voices in 2 or more languages and pay heaps of money for it. Tools like Speechelo are already here and they're going to stir the pot, we're tellin' ya. They are already good and will be getting better and better. Prepare for the VO revolution!


We hope you’ve learned more about video translation and how to avoid common mistakes that may prevent your content from delivering the right message to your target multilingual markets globally. Now go and grow!


Recommended articles:

A Detailed Review of Professional Translation Services

How to Reduce Turnaround Time for Content Translation