The Importance Of Audiovisual Translation In A World Crazy About Movies And Series

Written by:
Alejandro Cobo

Netflix. HBO. Amazon Prime Video. Hulu. Apple TV+. Disney+. So far, these are some of the most popular streaming platforms, a service that more and more users are using in search of their favorite movies and series. Many of these companies already have their own original productions, and they differ in catalogues, prices, and features. However, there is one thing they all have in common: they offer their content in dozens of languages.

This is the case, for example, of the Netflix series Money Heist (La casa de papel), whose third season got almost 35 million views in just one week. To get to those numbers, it first had to be dubbed into English, German, French, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese and Turkish, as well as subtitled into these and many more languages.

Dubbing and subtitling are the two most common forms of audiovisual translation, and although it has always been quite clear that there were “dubbing countries” (Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Brazil…) and “subtitling countries” (Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Finland…), this dividing line seems to have blurred with the arrival of the aforementioned platforms, since in your own home you can now easily decide in which language you are going to enjoy the series that everyone is talking about. Nevertheless, even before that person presses “play” from the comfort of their couch, many professional translators, subtitlers, and proofreaders have done their best to overcome the many linguistic obstacles that they face every day.

Seeing a film in its original version with subtitles has a clear advantage: the original audio is preserved and, therefore, the actors’ interpretations. Much has been said about subtitling being the best way to enjoy cinema, but what about translation? While it’s not something many people stop to think about, there are rules and conventions about how long subtitles should remain on the screen, their word limit per line, what font, color and size they should be… All this leads to the same thing: synthesis.

If you see a subtitled film you may be missing out on some details in the script, but don’t panic, professional subtitlers know exactly what information needs to be included and what can be discarded to reach a perfect balance between content and reading speed.

Dubbing, on the other hand, allows the viewer to focus on the film quality (cinematography, special effects…), the actors’ interpretation (looks, gestures…) and many other details thanks to the fact that the audio is in their native language. However, there are other difficulties, such as synchrony, choosing the right voices (and ensuring that they remain the same through the following sequels or seasons), and the laborious nature of the process. As a consequence, it is more expensive than subtitling. Even so, in traditional subtitling countries, dubbing is still predominant today for children’s content.

Dubbing translators, like subtitlers, also must ensure that the length of their translation does not fall short of or exceed the original audio, as a dubbing actor will then have to reproduce their work—perhaps including crying, shouting, or laughing—with a rhythm and cadence similar to that of the original actor. In addition, we must not forget an added challenge: the dubbing must coincide with the movements of the actor’s mouth. This work is usually carried out by the dubbing director (the person who chooses the cast of voices) and is known as “adaptation”.

The coexistence between these two systems has meant that anyone, no matter where they come from, has the chance to watch and understand a series created on the other side of the world, designed mainly for a specific culture with its own jokes and references. In the audiovisual industry we know this well: investing in professional translators means good results and audience satisfaction.