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An introduction to audio-visual translation

Audio-visual translation is a specialised branch of translation dedicated to the language versioning techniques used in audio-visual content which can be used either at the production or post-production stage.

Video is getting increasingly important: 74% of all internet traffic this year is forecast to come from video. As a result, the quality translation of visual content is highly sought after. Keep reading to find out what types of audio-visual translation are out there and how you can successfully translate a piece of audio-visual content.


Subtitles are the text version of what is being said in an audio-visual piece on the screen; these are not an exact transcription, and they tend to appear at the bottom of the screen.

There are various constraints when it comes to the production of subtitles, and length is the main one. Subtitles are usually limited to two or three lines, and a specific amount of characters. This often makes things complicated, as our reading speed varies from person to person, and subtitles have to remain visible on the screen long enough for people to be able to read them, but not too long to overlap with later shots.

There are various types of subtitles, such as:

  • Language-based subtitles: these are divided into intralingual subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, and interlingual subtitles – condensed translations of what is being said on the audio.
  • Time-based subtitles: these are divided into live subtitles – used for live events and the news – and pre-recorded subtitles, made after the production stage, with more time for subtitlers to work on them.
  • Set-up-based subtitles: these can be open – which means that they are always on the screen – or closed – when the viewer can choose to see them or not.
  • Surtitling: this indicates subtitles used in theatres, especially in operas.

Revoicing techniques

Revoicing techniques involve the replacement of the original voice track, and there are different types of revoicing:

  • Dubbing: this is the replacement of the original audio track with a translated one which reproduces the timing, phrasing and lip movement as closely as possible. Many people are involved in this process, including translators, adapters, dubbing actors, dubbing directors and sound engineers.
  • Voice-over: this is the overlapping of the translated voice track over the original one, where the original voice track in still audible in the background. The four types of voice-over techniques are voice-over itself, narration, free commentary and audio description.

Choosing the right type of audio-visual translation


Various things will influence the type of audio-visual translation you choose, such as your budget or the purpose of the video.

Considering your target audience, as well as on-screen visuals, are also extremely important. For instance, if members of your audience have some disabilities that may impact their ability to read subtitles, you should take this into account when creating them. In the case of children or elderly people, for instance, revoicing techniques might be a better option.

Different industries have different preferences when it comes to types of audio-visual translation, and you should do plenty of research on this. This is also true of countries, where for instance some prefer subtitling, and others dubbing.

Knowing the main purpose of your video will also help you to choose the best type of audio-visual translation, as will considering the type of device or medium which your content will be played on.

Project stages

Remember that the translation of an audio-visual piece of content is complex. You should have the script of your video at hand; once the script gets translated, it gets reviewed and is then sent to the subtitlers who can carry out any revoicing techniques. At this stage, you will be provided with a catalogue of voices to choose from. The video normally undergoes a final QA carried out by the project managers or the linguists.

You should have all the relevant material, such as your script, at the ready when approaching an agency for audio-visual translation, as this will considerably speed up the process.

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Lucía Gutiérrez Franco

Translation Project Manager at Webcertain
Lucia is a Translation Project Manager at Webcertain. She's been working with Webcertain for two years and she is an expert in audiovisual translation, a subject in which she obtained an MA from the University of Leeds. She organises translation projects mainly from the leisure and tourism industry, but also advises in any audiovisual translation projects that we receive. She is from Madrid, but has been living in the UK for the last 6 years.

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2 Responses to An introduction to audio-visual translation

  1. […] are several main types of audio-visual translation, and subtitle translation is one of them that cannot be ignored. Compared to dubbing and voice-over […]

  2. Mehdi Navazeshi says:

    thanks you for this text. it really helped me a lot 👏👏🌹

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