Video Localization Goes Well Beyond Translation—But How, Exactly?

At CMI, we’re often asked whether there’s any real difference between localization and translation. Sure, there’s a difference of medium—screen vs. page - But at the end of the day it’s all words, right?

Well, yes and no.

For starters, let’s define translation. Simply put, translation converts content from one language to another (or to multiple languages). A quality translation respects syntax and grammar, and preserves the subtle nuances that keep the original meaning intact. You wouldn’t want to say elevator in a British localization when your viewers expect lift—and expect a pro job with more credibility.

Video Translation for Localization

Translation is really the term for the mechanism of converting one language into another, intended for text projects such as manuals, legal documents, scientific papers, books, and so on. But translation is only part of localizing video... The beginning.

Localization is much more complex, for both text and video. It is the process of going one step further and adapting content to a specific locale or market. Graphics, colors, design, and layout changes may need to take place for the content work in another market. Also, customized formatting of dates (month or date first?), addresses (are there typically no 13th floors in this city’s buildings?), and phone numbers (dots or dashes?). So, while strict translation may be part of this process, but it doesn’t stop there—especially with video.

Let’s say you have video content that you want to launch in South America. A strict English-to-Spanish translation might work if you’re dealing only with text. But with video there are other considerations.

Considerations with Localizing Video

  • Dialects/Intonations: While Spanish may be the language of many South American countries, each country has its own dialect, inflections, and expressions that a native viewer will immediately detect.
  • Subtitling versus dubbing: Generally speaking, the more complex and demanding the material, the greater effort should be spent on lessening the cognitive load on the viewer. This means dubbing. A complex training video should be dubbed so your viewer can focus on learning the content instead of being distracted by reading subtitles. Subtitling, although cheaper on a per-word basis, is generally better suited to shorter, less complicated pieces.
  • Vendor experience: Having access to native speaker translators is not enough. When localizing video, you’ll want to a guarantee that the vendor has experienced directors to ensure each line is executed with accurate pronunciation, timing, and inflection. This applies to sound effects as well. What does the ring of a telephone sound like in that country? Or the wail of an emergency vehicle?
  • Acting talent: If you are dubbing, the vendor should make sure experienced voice-over actors are being used that match the genre (e.g., comedic actors for a comedy). Sober tones might work for drama, but probably not slapstick,
  • Quality control: Localizing video requires exacting quality control and editing. The more tasks requiring native finesse, the more steps involved. The vendor should provide a timeline and plan before you get started.

Work with CMI

At CMI, we focus solely on localizing video, film and apps as well as stand alone audio (e.g., podcasts, audio books) for a wide range of content across industries. We provide services for both small and large organizations, from training videos for the corporate world to feature-length, blockbuster films for the entertainment industry. How can we help you localize—and not just translate—your project today? Contact us today!