One of the specialties I came to develop, I’d say, gradually by a series of opportunities, is translation for dubbing (not to be confused with subtitling, that I won’t talk about in this post because it has different specificities).
But first of all, what is dubbing?
Dubbing is basically the localization of a foreign movie, a post-production process that consists in the translation of the dialogues in a different language, that will then be read by voice artists.
Here is Merriam Webster’s definition:
1: to add (sound effects or new dialogue) to a film or to a radio or television production —usually used with in
2: to provide (a motion-picture film) with a new sound track and especially dialogue in a different language
3: to make a new recording of (sound or videotape already recorded); also : to mix (recorded sound or videotape from different sources) into a single recording
So for this post I’ll share with you only my own experience in this field, which most of the time involved translating the film for dubbing with the final script, or from the video only without a script. Sometimes it also involves time-coding and spotting.
- An important part and specificity of translating for dubbing is that it is not only
translation, but adaptation: The words you choose for your translated segment
must match the time it took the actors to say their lines.
- Then another factor is whether you are adapting a script for lip-sync (lip-synchronization) or for
My personal experience having been mostly with adaptation for lip-sync lately, that’s what I’ll be sharing with you today.
What I need to do when translating a script for lip-sync is to adapt so as to match not only the number of lines and syllables – and there are constraints on the number of lines per dialogue - , but to match the actor’s lip movements, so that the voice artist can read the translated script moving his/her lips in sync with the actor’s. Now that’s where the translation process here is different from other types of translation work. Because of the time and space constraints imposed on you, you need to adapt in order to make the script in the target language fit. Translating literally often times won’t do. As an example, with my first language combination, English to French, English being often more concise than French, when you translate into French you often end up with a longer sentence in French. So in order to make the French script fit you’ll need to adapt, by translating the essential, the gist of it, or/and choosing shorter words.
The other difficulty is, we’ve seen that the words chosen must match the lip movements of the actor. What that means, for example, is if the last word of a dialogue ends with a certain vowel sound, you’ll need, whenever possible, the last word of the French dialogue to end with that same vowel sound and/or lip movement, or as close as possible. You may have to change the order of the words to accomplish this, or find synomyms that will fit. It is altogether a technical work, and a creative one.
Very creative: when translating without a script, directly from the video, it obviously takes more time, but you can be confronted to other challenges when working without a script: what to do when you have a dialogue with half a dozen people yelling at each other at the same time? – believe me, it happens. The first difficulty here will be to identify who speaks, who says what, because everything each character says needs to be translated, and if you can’t distinguish all of it, well you have to make it up, using the context, because you need to fill that space. It’s a guessing game. Some of the characters might not be facing the camera, or be too far for you to be able to even see the lip movements clearly.
One challenge I’ve encountered was while translating a soap opera, for which I was to handle the Arabic dialogues and translate them into French, without a script. The Arabic spoken in those scenes was Moroccan Arabic and that was familiar grounds, except for some of the actors who were not native speakers of Arabic and who had learned their Arabic lines phonetically…It was sometimes very challenging to understand what they were saying, because it was mispronounced. I guess having previously been a language teacher helped a bit in this case. So you may end up having to listen to the same line over and over again to figure out what is being said, and if you can’t, you need to find something that makes sense with the context, and matches the lip movements of the actors. Fun, huh?
So if you’re considering translation for dubbing as a possible specialty field, you’ll need some specific technical training, you’ll need to be able to conform to the specific time constraints and format, and you need to be creative with challenges, as all of these are different from the ones you encounter with other type of translation work.
For other aspects of localization when translating books or movies, see previous post:
Language is not everything: Localization and cultural awareness.