Confused? I’ve just used quite a common language – gibberish. Gibberish, or nonsensical speech, must have been around since humans started using language. Related terms we find for it today are gobbledygook and jibber-jabber, whereby the first, as I found out, is more used in connection with written language, and jibber-jabber has a particular association with speed – rapid talk that is difficult to understand. In our field of communication, surely you’ll agree that we all want to avoid any of these. Talk gibberish to your audience, and you will lose them.
With the increasing amount of video content that organisations provide these days for all sorts of purposes comes a higher risk of “talking gibberish”. Why? Because compared to print media, I dare say that videos have a stronger effect on how they make the audience feel about something; the communication is directed to people’s eyes AND ears and also speaks to their hearts at a different level. When we talk about video translation, this means that the conversion of carefully created source content to another language requires equally great care. And whilst print material or websites are quite flexible to adjust, videos present limitations: in terms of their length, i.e. time constraints to fit possibly longer translations, as well as budgets, because a high amount of edits to the original video can result in higher costs than expected.
Here are some tips of what you can do ahead of video translation to avoid potentially costly adjustments and too much information falling victim to shortened scripts, so your clear and appealing English version doesn’t turn into foreign language gibberish.
Make the translation decision early
We are aware that in real life, this is not always possible – you may be a small start-up, and at the time you create your first advertising clip aren’t thinking quite yet of venturing into overseas markets. Or when you had your first workplace safety video designed, you didn’t know your company would be establishing a factory in Indonesia two years later. In that case, a professional language service provider will of course do their best to work with what they’ve got.
But if you do know early that your new video will likely come to use for foreign-language audiences, then you are definitely at an advantage. Adapting a suitably designed existing video is probably going to cost you less than producing a whole new one. At the time your video is put together, your creative team can take some things into account that may not only make the material suitable for more than one market in terms of content, but also more easily adaptable. This will result in lower cost and optimised messaging. The next thing to then decide on is: Voice-over or subtitles? Or both? (See our earlier blog for help with that decision.)
First think global, then local
The more “global” the approach with which you create your new video, the more likely it will become usable for multicultural audiences and/or overseas markets later. So, if possible, choose content, themes and colours that are good for multiple markets. Avoid images that may offend viewers from other cultures (in a brochure you can change these easily, but with filmed footage, it can be a bigger deal), or in corporate image videos feature products that you sell globally rather than one you only offer in Australia. Background music is one thing that can be changed quite easily later – so with that, you can take a more locally focussed approach.
Think about on-screen text
There are a few reasons why it makes sense to think about this early, no matter if you localise through subtitles or voice-over. If text that appears on screen is very relevant for viewers to understand the information, it will generally require translation. Whilst the actual cost of translation is generally manageable (because volumes tend to be low), editing the translated text into the original video can be costly depending on the layout, styles or animation effects that were used. Check this with your video editor and choose styles where text can be replaced with minimum efforts.
Also consider that if you have a lot of on-screen text, you are depriving yourself from the generally more cost-efficient subtitling option. Your video would become too text-heavy for viewers to be able to process all information, or to find the message attractive.
If there is little on-screen text, e.g. only an occasional faded-in section title or super (words “superimposed” over a filmed image, often used for example to show the name and position of the person in the picture speaking), this may not necessarily need to be translated; but the positioning of this text comes into play. Subtitles placed over on-screen text do not only look bad, they can also confuse viewers. There are solutions for this, like having some appear at the top of the screen instead of at the bottom, or having them all underneath the filmed footage on a separate background instead of embedded within. But you may not like the look of this, or keep changing subtitle positions to a limit. So, think about the positioning of on-screen text as well.
We’ve often talked about this – what you say in English will be longer in many other languages, and this includes many of the most popular languages into which we at 2M localise for our international clients. Plus, it applies for both the written and the spoken word.
But even if all languages were the same length – measurements have shown that people’s reading speeds vary. In other words, a viewer may need longer to read a sentence or subtitle than you do. Broadcasters and large subtitling firms have actually defined standard characters-per-second values for different countries. Lower reading speed may also need to be considered in connection with target audiences that have a lower education level or people who may be in a stress situation and for whom the video is provided for assistance.
Whatever the reason, and no matter if you decide on voice-over or subtitles: If in another language you don’t want to lose any part of your message, leave space for it to be conveyed suitably. Here are a couple of ways to do this:
Avoid fast speech in the original
Have your narrator, speakers or interviewees talk at a natural, but comfortable pace, and not race through. Little pauses between sentences don’t only enhance clarity in the original, but already help immensely when it comes to fitting in a recorded voice-over into the available time window. The foreign language talent should also be able to speak at a comfortable pace without extensive shortening of scripts. One extra second can make a big difference, no matter if your viewers are listening to audio or reading subtitles.
Include additional pauses or footage
Many videos have a structure or content that allows for this; you can win an extra second here and there by extending a picture or footage just a little bit longer, and it’s hardly noticeable. Not too much, so it doesn’t impact the flow, but just enough to allow extra words to be used when the video is later translated. For example, on-screen text can often be faded in a bit more slowly, or for a bit longer.
Or even better, allow for adjustments to the vision after the voice-over has been recorded. Apart from extending the time for on-screen text, you can instruct your film crew to record some extra seconds of footage when they are already on set anyway, and this could then be added later.
As you can see, there are a number of things that can be done in preparation, so that your translated material is just as attractive as the original.
Of course, being “nonsensical” can be fun as well. In other contexts, I’d be quite tempted to agree with one who was known to sometimes build gibberish into his famous books – Dr. Seuss, who said: “I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells.”
Written by Susanne Creak, General Manager, 2M Language Services