Video Translation vs. Video Adaptation

You are a producer asked to deliver a video in two or more languages, let’s say English and French (as is common here in Canada). You’ve finished the English version; now, on to the French. Recording the script – that’s down the road. First you need a translation.

There are three common ways the translation is produced:

  1. The client supplies a translation done in-house or by their usual translation vendor.
  2. The producer sends the script to a traditional translator, who is accustomed to working on print documents.
  3. The script is translated and adapted by a qualified audio-visual translator, who specializes in voiceover scripts and spoken dialogue.

Options 1 and 2 may seem cheaper in the short run, but are likely to cost you time and money down the road, and you may still end up with an inferior product. Why? Because script translation is a different process from regular document translation.

Other languages use more words

Most of the time, French takes 20-30% longer to say the same thing as English. (This also applies to Spanish and many other languages.) If your script is translated without adaptation, either you have to read it 20% faster, or you end up with a longer VO.

Not long ago, a video producer asked me to direct the VO recording for the French version of a two-minute animated promo. The translation had been supplied by his corporate client. Not surprisingly the French recording ended up longer than the English – by a full 40 seconds. That meant the animation would have to be stretched by more than 30%. And the two-minute promo would be closer to three minutes long in French, stretching the attention span of the target audience. (“Couldn’t you have just asked the narrator to read it faster?” you might ask. Well, no. Not if the audience was going to have any chance of taking in the information.)

Adaptation, not just translation

Translation by an experienced audio-visual translator takes care of the problem by condensing and adapting the script to fit the time available. It doesn’t alter the meaning, but finds more efficient ways to say the same thing. It makes it easier for your narrator to deliver a good performance – no speed-talking required – and more importantly, for the audience to absorb the material.

Want to know more about script adaptation, or talk about your video translation project? Drop us a line.

Eric Geringas
Versioning producer. Documentary filmmaker. Factual TV director. Problem solver.