Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Multi-Lingual A/V UN Style
April 15, 2009 - By: - In: Localization - Comments Off on Multi-Lingual A/V UN Style

The most glamorous part of the translation space is the work we do for TV and the web. I guess I have to admit, that backstage behind the set curtain, it isn’t all that glitzy. But it is always interesting, mostly because it requires a lot of skill and preparation to make sure we get it right on the first take.

Our corporate clients have to really rely on us to get it right, since even when they have their own production facilities, they may not have that much experience working in multiple languages. And when high production costs meet tight budgets, creativity is definitely required.

Thanks to our location in a big media capital like New York, we’ve had a chance to work with the best and the brightest. We’ve learned a lot from our clients who do this kind of thing day in and out… all the major US news organizations and lots of network entertainment. (We are still waiting for a call from the Simpson’s though… any idea where I should send my headshot?)

But our biggest influence has been the United Nations. It makes sense, since the UN is constantly engaged in engaging the world’s attention in multiple languages. For example, a UN-style voiceover is how voice-over people describe a dubbing technique where the on-camera speaker’s voice is left on the sound track, with the volume turned low. The target language dub is then turned up, so that when the lips of the talking head don’t synch with the voice of the dub, the final effect doesn’t look like some bad gladiator movie.

The UN sets the standards for subtitles too, at least, they’ve set our standards. Subtitles look easy, but are anything but. Most of the subtitles scripts we receive from our clients have to be tossed and done from scratch by subtitle specialists. We worked up these guidelines years ago with a UN production house and we’ve been using them ever since to educate corporate clients.

Here are examples of subtitle cards that run in the space below a playing video. There is limited space for these titles on screen. The line breaks in the script must match the line breaks of the subtitles on the screen. The graphics show the amount of available space on screen for titles.

This limited space has to be taken into account when we translate the text:

United Nations Translation
United Nations Translation

Each subtitle must be formatted to read naturally and sensibly on one or two lines of text that fits on the screen space available.

Using a Helvetica bold font on screen, it is possible to get on average a maximum of forty-eight characters on one line of text, including spaces:

United Nations Translation

Using all capitals, it is possible to get a maximum of thirty-seven characters on screen:

United Nations Translation

The more text that is displayed on the screen, the harder it is for the viewer to read. Not only is the image obscured by the screen, but a lot of text will distract and confuse the viewer.

To translate text for subtitles, we will not translate every word; instead, we will summarize and condense to ensure easy comprehension by the viewer.

To learn more about translating subtitles the right way, check out Responsive Translation.

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