Papers and Articles by Daniel Pageon on Translating

the "Spoken" as opposed to the "Written" word


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The ITI Bulletin published Daniel's report on page 29 of the March-April 2010 issue


Daniel Pageon attended the eCoLoMedia study day in Brussels on 14th December 2009 and reports on voice-over translation and Flash localisation for The ITI Bulletin, The article was published in . The aim of the event was to create tools accessible on the Internet for teachers in the field of audiovisual translation and localisation.


The work was carried out by a partnership made up of academic institutions, namely the Haute Ecole de Bruxelles, Belgium, Universität des Saarlandes, Germany, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain, Université “Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Romania, and University of Leeds, UK. In addition, independent experts came from Dublin City University, Ireland, from professional bodies in Belgium, CBTIP/BKVTF and the ITI from the UK. Content developers took part as well; including the RTBF, Belgium State Radio and Television, the University of Leeds, the Universität des Saarlandes and PASS Engineering GmbH, a software developer from Germany.


Institutions have finally become aware of the lack of professional translators of the spoken word, and under the auspices of the European Commission, the eCoLoMedia project was launched two years ago. As a result of this work a number of important tools have been uploaded to an Internet site, The material is freely accessible to translator teachers to be used with their students.

The study day covered the main areas of multimedia translations: Subtitles and Captioning, Games localisation, Flash animations and Voice-overs.

It was very interesting for me to discover what “Flash Localisation” is all about. Even after decades of being involved in translations there are always new areas to be explored with new opportunities. The workshop was run by Lidia Cámara de la Fuente from the Universitat de Vic in Spain, Yamile Ramirez from the Universität des Saarlandes and Ivan Mugemanyi from the event’s host, HEB-ISTI. Multimedia material has been used at the Universitat de Vic since 2007. All five basic types of media material are used - text, video, sound, graphics and animation, and they have been combined with language technology tools such as CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) software and machine translation. This experiment was performed in a scientific environment but can of course be used in other fields. The concept is that using as many senses as possible to teach is going to produce better results and accelerate the learning process. This seems to have been accepted for quite a long time now. The challenge for the language professional is that one needs to learn to navigate through a number of different software with all the pitfalls and bugs that are encountered when starting to use new tools. This was indeed the case during the workshop, but it would have been quite extraordinary if clicking on one specific file was going to produce the expected results every single time. This does not happen in real life! As we say in English, c’est la vie!  Flash animation files known as .fla are the working files. Once they are posted on the Internet they are embedded as .swf and are not editable. A Flash decompiler is needed to access the parts that will need to be translated. This is becoming useful to professional translators who are asked to translate websites when the client does not have all the files in Word documents for example. The other advantage of using Flash animations in the classroom according to Lidia Cámara de la Fuente is that students are practising listening to the voice-overs as they have to transcribe them before starting the translation. They then develop skills to shorten the translation to make it fit the allocated length and they then use their own voice to record it, using yet another software, in this instance Audacity.

There was also a workshop on Voice-over, which was introduced by Alina Secară from the University of Leeds and by myself. Alina gave some very interesting figures on the state of the market, showing that the voice-over sector is exploding and that more and more specialist translators will be needed in the future. In the classroom the 20 students or so each had a workstation they could use to translate their script and then record it. It is of course a very efficient way to use time. These conditions are ideal to train translators to write in the right style and to make sure the translation is not too long, which is the main stumbling block, especially when translating from English. To be able to check that the translation is readable and will fit is good, but the translators also need to be taught to read their script the way an actor would do it. If you mumble very fast through the script it is not going to be very helpful. Trainers should be aware of this and make sure the students articulate well and respect the punctuation.  Full stops should be used as they give the chance to breathe through the nose without making an undue amount of noise. It also means that the listener will have time to take in what has been said and realise that a new subject is going to be started. This pause might not be longer than a second or less, but that is enough. Translators do not need to be trained to use their voice, as they are not going to be actors, or do they? The world is changing; there are new requirements appearing all the time, new clients who do not need top quality actors to do their cheap and fast jobs. I hate to say this, because I would like all recordings to be perfect in all respects, but that is not what some clients are requesting. With the advent of cheap home recording facilities, some translators might find an opportunity to sell a wider range of services by offering their voice as well! 

There are six main problems that need to be addressed by translators to insure the voice-over artist will be in a position to deliver a good read within the allocated studio time.

Translation length: Translators need to find ways of reducing the length. This can be achieved by translating the ideas rather than all the words. Repeated nouns can be replaced by pronouns, superfluous adjectives can be discarded altogether and so on. 

Keyword positioning: Another pitfall happens when a word or expression should coincide with a move on the screen or the specific picture of a person mentioned in the narration. The voice also needs to be in synch with bullet points which appear quite often in training programmes for example. The voice will be able to vary the speed of delivery to try to make the words synch with the picture, but only up to a point.

Written style: To make it easier to speak, sentences should be short whenever possible. The style should be spoken rather than written, for example instead of saying: "As mentioned above" it should be: "As mentioned before."  And the word below should be translated in the spoken form as later. The voice sightreads the script, like a musician reads notes, but very often without rehearsals.

Unknown gender of the voice: The gender of the person reading the script has to be taken into consideration in most languages, but it goes further than just dealing with the masculine and the feminine. In some languages there are words that are not normally spoken by a woman and vice versa. In other languages, like Japanese, the relationship between the speaker and the audience has to be confirmed as the viewers could easily be offended if the wrong style was used. 

Unknown target audience: The style of address will vary if the film is aimed

at teaching a group of mechanics how to replace a part or if it is to tell surgeons how to perform a heart transplant. In some languages like French, Italian, Spanish, German and Welsh something as basic as the use of the formal and the informal way of addressing people must sometimes be discussed with clients.

Unsuitable homophones: Homonyms do not cause a problem very often but when they do it can be quite hilarious. The one example springing to mind is the name of a car simply called MR2 in the United Kingdom, nothing bad at all about that, unless you pronounce it in French and you get the sound "et merde"!  

The conference was very successful, the new types of communication media were thoroughly explored and the need for teaching this relatively new type of translations was clearly highlighted. The conference was well attended by a number of professional translators and teachers interested in finding out how to use modern technology to teach, but also to find out about new requirements in terms of translating skills as well. With the eCoLoMedia website, schools and universities now have the tools they need to start teaching the students how to translate the spoken word as well as the written one.

Papers on the eCoLoMedia project will be published in 2010 by the Editions du Hazard, Haute Ecole de Bruxelles.

In the meantime further information can be found on eCoLoMedia on and more specifically on voice-overs on Daniel Pageon's website

Daniel Pageon published The World of the Voice-over in 2007. He has now completed another book on second language learning for adults, entitled The Opening and is looking for a publisher.



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The proceeding of the eCoLoMedia conference were published in August 2011



by Les Editions du Hasard in Bruxelles.

eCoLoMedia, Formation à la localisation multimédia,

Actes de la journée d'étude du 14 décembre 2009

Sous la direction de Pascaline Merten.

Follows a transcript of Daniel's paper Translating the "spoken" word as published on pages 110 to 127



Translating the "spoken" word

Daniel Pageon

Fellow of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting

Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists

Director of Actors World Production Limited


            The written word won’t do when it has to be spoken by an actor in the course of making a voice-over. Let’s have a look at the reasons why this is so and how these issues can be resolved.

            As soon as humans gathered to live together, communication became a necessity. It first started with a combination of signs and grunts and evolved to oral communication. The next big step was written communication, which started with basic drawings and symbols which, in time, became more sophisticated images, eventually evolving into pictograms and letters. Painted cave walls, carved stone, papyrus, velum and finally paper; any support was worth a try to get the message across! Written communication exploded into mass communication with the introduction of the movable type printing by Gutenberg in fifteenth century Europe. Publications on paper were the main means of communication until the advent of radio, films, television and then the Internet. With these latest media, oral skills are coming back to the forefront and need to be redeveloped. Until very recently translators were only taught to translate written material. This is now slowly changing. Books and courses are appearing on the art of writing the spoken word for use in voicing films. Nowadays films come on a variety of different supports, still projected on the silver screen but also on video, DVD, Blu-ray, television and the Internet.

            Different types of techniques are used to replace one language by another. In the early days of the talkies, in the late nineteen twenties and early thirties, the only way was to re-shoot the film in the other language. Only blockbusters made in Hollywood had a budget large enough to allow for such an exercise. Some of the most famous examples were films directed by Ernst Lubitsch starring Maurice Chevalier, shot both in American and French.


When is a translation of the spoken word required?


There are many different ways of dubbing films, today the main techniques are:

1.      Voice-over

2.      Down and under

3.      Phrase synch

4.      Lip synch

5.      ADR and Crowd scenes

6.      Audio description

1.         The voice-over consists in replacing the original voice spoken off-screen, by another one. It is sometimes done in the same language, when the film director made a guide track with his own voice to edit the film together. It is then revoiced by a professional actor, well known or anonymous as the case may be. Translators become involved when the language changes.

2.         The down and under technique is used when the sound of the original voice will need to be kept as well as the voice in the language of the intended audience. In such a case we hear the first few words of the original speaker, then his or her voice is faded under the voice of the replacement language. The original voice might be brought back at the end of the paragraph if the translation is succinct enough to allow for it. This is mainly used when the original speaker is a well known person within a company in the case of a corporate production, or if it is an international figure known on the world stage.

3.         Phrase synch is a technique adopted for training films where role-plays are used to convey the message to the audience. A perfect lip synchronisation is not an option because of budget constraints and technical reasons. In training films there are key words and expressions that are well known and used in the different languages; these cannot be changed to accommodate the lip movements of the actors on the screen. This is why the translation will aim at providing the voices with the right amount of words, or to be more precise syllables to make sure that sounds are coming out of the actors on screen when their lips are moving and that they are silent when the lips are not moving. Because of the idiosyncrasies of every actor, it happens sometimes that the lips are moving with no sound coming out, this is quite acceptable from the original actor but does not look good in the dubbed version. Translators need to be aware of this when they do their translation.

4.         Lip synch, lip synchronisation in full, is what you see when you watch feature films or  foreign series which have been dubbed into your own language. The target script, in most cases, will have gone through two different processes. Translators are involved in translating the basic scripts so that specialist writers can understand what the story is all about. Then the writers will look for words or sounds that are meaningful and allow the story to move forward, but that also match the lip movements of the original actor on screen.

5.         ADR stands for automatic dialogue replacement. There are two applications for that technique. The first one consists in replacing the words originally spoken because the sound quality was not good enough. For example: the director is delighted with the fifteenth take of a magnificent scene, the pictures are beautiful, the actors have managed to convey the feelings in a perfect way, but as luck would have it, a fighter jet flew overhead during that take and the story was taking place in the sixteen century. A few weeks later, when the shoot is finished the actors will be asked to go into a studio and replace their voice. This type of lip synch is a bit easier than doing it in another language, the words will fit the lip movements, but the actors have to rediscover the mood and on certain occasions it can take some time to achieve the perfect result.

ADR is also used for background scenes. For example, if the two main protagonists are inside a busy Spanish restaurant, having an intense discussion; and all the other people in the background are very busy with their own activities, talking, telling jokes, laughing, waiters doing their work. However, during the actual shooting the extras are all miming and not making any noise, or if they are talking, the scene being an interior scene it has all been shot in London with English extras. In the ADR session, the Spanish atmosphere has to be recreated by maybe four or six Spanish actors. There will be a few takes of general ‘rhubarb’ (that is a jargon expression for background speaking), and then the director will have to identify specific people who can be seen saying something. These will be lip synched in Spanish to make sure the viewers really believe that the scene is in a real Spanish restaurant. These short sentences might have been scripted before, or the actors might be asked to have a good look a couple of times and invent some words to fit the lip movements.  

I remember an instance when four French actors had to redo all of Napoleon's army marching on Moscow. The film had been shot in the Ukraine and the soldiers did not sound very convincing when they were shouting "Vive l'Empereur!" so we spent the entire afternoon shouting again and again, so that there were enough takes to make the four of us sound like a million men!!!!

6.         Audio description is a relatively new development. It is aimed at visually-impaired people who nevertheless enjoy accompanying a friend to the cinema. Audio description is done in a number of languages. It consists in translating explanations of what is happening on screen. The time constraints are severe, as the descriptions can only take place when the protagonists on screen are not speaking. For budgetary reasons, the voice needs to operate the recording equipment as well, using a keyboard while reading the script from a monitor when the film sequences are also shown. Translators tend to be in-house, as the distributors do not want their blockbuster to be hijacked on the Internet or on pirate DVDs before it has even been released on the cinema circuit. Translators have access to the film and should therefore be able to translate the script knowing what the context is and make sure they respect the length. These jobs seem to be done under great pressure, the voice being in the cubicle recording the first reel [1] while the translator is working on the next one.


Problems that arise when translating for the spoken word


The actor, also known as a voice over artist, a voice over or simply as a voice, and in the United-States a talent, is confronted by a number of problems when given a script one minute before sitting down in front of the microphone. There are 6 problems regularly encountered:

1.      Translation length.

2.      Keyword positioning.

3.      Written style.

4.      Unknown gender of the voice.

5.      Unknown target audience.

6.      Unsuitable homophones.


1.         The length of the translation is the first hurdle to be faced. In many languages, especially when the source language is English, the translation is longer. This situation creates headaches for the voice, under pressure to finish the recording within an hour. The first thing the voice will attempt to do to solve this problem is to read the script faster. The limitations on this are obvious; the script is read so fast that no one can understand what is being said. The next option is to try to take out a word or two, and if that does not work, then the entire sentence has to be rewritten; that is not necessarily a skill the voice has, especially under the time pressure in the studio which needs to be vacated as the next client is waiting.

2.         Keyword positioning is another pitfall for the voice. It happens when a word or expression should coincide with a move on the screen or the specific picture of a person mentioned in the narration. The voice will be able to vary the speed of delivery to try to make the words synch with the picture, but only up to a point. If the key word is the second one in the original sentence but the fifteenth one in the translation, it will not work. The voice will attempt to correct that, but here again there might not be time in the studio to do this. The voice also needs to be in synch with bullet points which appear quite often in training programmes for example.

3.         The written style can be an additional hurdle the voice has to negotiate.  The voice will find it more difficult to read long elaborate sentences. The voice sight-reads the script like a musician reads notes, but very often without rehearsals. Bad presentation, like a script entirely in capital letters, no accents when there should be some; bad punctuation and wrong spelling will make the voice fluff. Fluffing is a jargon word meaning stumbling on a word. Imagine a musician reading from notes where there are mistakes on the score. The difficulty is increased by a guide track being played to the voice. The voice hears the English guide track, for example as an additional help to deliver the script at the right speed and in the right style. However, the voice does not listen to every single word, if the voice listens then the likelihood of sounding English[2] is much greater.

4.         The gender of the person who is going to read the script needs to be ascertained as it will affect the translations in some languages. On paper it is not always obvious in English if the speaker is a man or a woman.

5.         As in written translations it is important to adopt a style the audience is likely to be at ease with, unless the agenda is to teach them a different style of course.

6.         Beware of homonyms especially homophones, as these can be very dangerous. It might be very clear what the word is on paper, but once heard if might confuse the audience, make them laugh or be outraged. The consequences are bad; because the viewers will not listen to the following few sentences and the entire message might be lost. Here again the voice might pick them up or not as the case may be.


How to deal with the points above?

1.         In order to ensure that the length of a translation does not exceed what is required; translators will have to become writers and editors. The first thing translators need to do is to make clients aware that they specialise in translating the spoken word so that the translation will be in synch with the pictures. To do this, translators will need to translate the ideas; a word-for-word translation will not work. Editing will be required, and indeed repetitions and non-vital elements will have to be omitted. An obvious way to reduce the length of a translation consists in replacing long often repeated words by pronouns for example. Translators will need to ask for the freedom to rewrite; they will need to build a team spirit with clients explaining as diplomatically as possible that if it took seventeen versions to get the original right, it might take two or three to achieve the same results with the translation. Clients should be encouraged to contribute to make sure the translation is as good as possible. The aim is to achieve a translation which is considered as an original by the target audience. As specialists of the spoken word, translators might not be specialists in the actual subject and therefore translations need to be checked by clients. Some clients might not like that and would prefer to have the translation done in one go, which is why diplomacy and education are required. Translators need to explain that as outsiders they cannot know the company jargon. That knowledge can of course be developed over the years, but in the meantime, clients must be told that it is much cheaper to change a few words in a translation than revoice a film, especially after 1 000 DVDs have been produced! Translators might of course also work as part of a team and ask a colleague specialising in the given subject to double-check their work for technicalities and/or in-house jargon. Many large multinationals have closed their in-house translation units in the past twenty years, but there is a positive sign as one of the largest companies in the world has started to rebuild its translation department. This is a good omen for translators in general, including freelance, as work still needs to be outsourced. The in-house team manages projects and supplies assistance to translators. Most clients will understand that translators are trying to make the best possible translations in the interest of their company and will help as much as they can.

If the translator requires explanations on the source material, all the issues should be gathered in one document and sent to the clients in one go, as it will not do to pester clients every five minutes when a new clarification is needed. This is just as relevant for translators of written scripts. There are of course cases where clients give translators access to their own terminology, making the translation process much easier, but it does not often happen in the field of corporate filming.

To translate to the required length, translators need to become aware of something known as time codes. The length of each segment, phrase or paragraph, that needs to be translated and then read as one unit, can be established by reading the time codes.

Time codes look like this: 10:12:35:06.

They are superimposed on screen over the images and they are called BITC (burnt in time codes). The first two digits indicate the hours and this is normally not relevant to the work of the translator. Traditionally it starts at 10 hours and will then go on to 11 when films are longer than one hour. In the corporate market, films are rarely longer than one hour. The second two figures stand for the minutes and the following two for the seconds. The last two for the frames and there are, most of the time in Europe, 24 frames per second of film. The two middle sets of figures are the important ones for translators, as the actual length of the sentence can be deducted by subtracting the end time code to the start one. To check that the translation is not too long, translators need to read the sentence aloud. The sentence cannot be mumbled or rushed, it has to be spoken in a clear and articulated way, otherwise it could still turn out to be too long.

The first difficulty arises for translators when they are not provided with a suitable script. Translators might or might not be helped by their clients. The script might be sent as a written document without any indication of timings. (The word timing has been superseded by time-codes with the advent of video. When using film, directors took great care of writing the timings on the script to ensure the translation would fit. It was even more important then than now as moving backwards and forwards in the film was a lengthy process and sometimes some of the previously recorded words were erased by mistake. Dropping in for an edit was difficult, it became a bit easier when in and out points could be set. All had to be done in real time, then in double-time and faster, but films had to be wound back and forward and so did the sound recording tapes.) However, if the film is provided, it will require additional work on the part of the translators to include the time codes in the script; a very time-consuming process. It is therefore advisable to contact clients and ask them if they can provide the script with BITC or if this should be done by translators at an additional cost of course. I have to reiterate how important it is to have BITC as otherwise it is going to be very difficult to identify the length of sentences or paragraphs from the player you are using. Furthermore the speed of the player might not be the right one and translators might not be able to establish what the right lengths are.

When translators are not provided with a script including time codes and that access to the film with BITC is not available, the way around it is to create a new word document with two columns. The source language should be pasted in the left hand side column and the translation typed in the right hand side. It is then possible to ensure that the translation does not look longer than the source. Long German words will wrap around and could give the impression that the translation is longer, but it is quite easy to reassess the situation by looking at how dense the right hand side column is compared to the column with the source material. Double-checking by reading aloud is of course necessary. Depending on the language, different reading speeds are acceptable in a given country. Translators can find out about that by viewing programmes in the target language on television, using the Internet if necessary. The speed will also differ depending on the style of the programmes to be voiced, so that also needs to be established, a documentary on a slow-moving river will not require the same speed of narration than one on motor racing for example. As opposed to a translation written for a magazine, a report or a manual, it is not possible to use smaller font size!  Abbreviations should not be used for two reasons, first they might shorten the script on paper but they will be longer to read and second the voice might no know what they mean. Counting the number of words is not really a good option as, again in the case of German, the number of words might not reflect the actual time it takes to read a sentence.

2.         Key word positioning requires special attention on the part of translators. Translators will need to identify keywords and make sure they correspond to the pictures on screen, sometimes taking liberties with the grammar of their own language, whilst remaining correct. Being able to juggle the target language in such a way that keywords correspond to specific images is vital. This is a difficult skill to achieve and requires an ability to play with the target language. Again the difficulty will be enhanced if the film is not provided.

In the case of bullet points, the script will be enough, but there are many other instances when it is not possible to know that a word needs to correspond to a picture. In a video recently translated, there was a description of a bottle and then the name of the inventor of the product mentioned and it just happened that the bottle flew in the air and turned to show the engraving of the company's founder at the end of the sequence. In some languages, logic dictates that the name of the man appears at the beginning. Doing it that way will make it into a beautiful sentence, totally grammatical, but the impact will be lost if the reveal effect is not achieved the way the film director wanted it. Imagination is then required to rewrite the script in such a way that the name is said at the same time as the portrait appears. Training films can be difficult when a succession of actions have to be followed in the right order to replace a part in an engine for example. Different tools have to be used in very specific ways illustrated on screen, words and hand movements have to be synchronised in all the different languages. Acronyms can be a challenge, especially when clients want the same acronym to be used in twenty one languages. The case I have in mind was handled in a very intelligent way by the client who knew the difficulties and asked before even making the film if it would work in the different languages. It turned out that it did for all of them. The decision was then taken to go ahead with the project even though the pictures for two of the languages had to be reedited to fit. Knowing in advance meant that the budget was available for the picture editing and the project was a success.

Educating clients is very important to make the life of translators easier. Clients do not always know about linguistics, they might not even be aware of the difference between basic words like translation, interpreting, transcription or transliteration. When clients are educated, they then consult translators before the start of a project, making sure it is going to work. Here is another example where the lack of consultation with a native resulted in the complete failure of a given project with a large budget. It was a beautifully shot commercial with a four wheel drive car and a family roaming around a dream landscape. The film portrayed a smart couple with two brilliant children and a golden Labrador. The film was never shown to its intended market in the Middle East because, however beautiful a dog might be to us, it is not acceptable in most countries in that region! A little consultation with an Arabic translator before the film was made would have avoided this waste of money.

3.         The written style will have to be made into the spoken style. The style of the script will affect the way the voice is going to read it. When reading scripts aloud, translators need to make sure the length is fine, the keywords are in the right places and the punctuation is perfect. The punctuation indicates where the voice has a chance to breathe in, but also helps with the intonation of the sentences. The actor's eyes read ahead of the voice producing the sound. At the risk of repeating myself I would like to stress that proper presentation, punctuation and spelling are of paramount importance for the voice. They are the visual cues the voice uses to deliver the script perfectly first time around. Parentheses should be avoided whenever possible and certainly no footnotes should be used as they cannot be read in a narration. To make it easier to speak, sentences should be short if at all possible. The style should be spoken rather than written, for example instead of saying: "As mentioned above" it should be something like: "As mentioned previously."  And the word below should be translated in the spoken form as later. This raises another interesting point when the original script is not itself written in the spoken style and has been culled from a brochure or a manual. Translators will have to decide what to do for themselves, but if the right team spirit has been created with clients, rewriting in the proper spoken form in the translation will, in the long term, be appreciated by clients. Remember the word "diplomacy", do not denigrate the work of the original writer, he might very well be the client himself/herself or a close relative or friend! It is not unusual for a translation to be better than the original, clients might not even be aware of it, but the viewers will appreciate a good film with a good narration. If they do not like it, they might very well make their feelings known, and the translator will be blamed, it is no excuse saying then that the original was not very good. For the viewer the language version they watch is the only one they will see and to them it is an original.

4.         The gender of the person reading has to be taken into consideration in most languages, but it goes further than just dealing with the masculine and the feminine. In some languages there are words that are not normally spoken by a woman and vice versa. The wrong gender will probably be noticed by the person reading, but that could mean additional work to be done on the script by a voice who might not be willing nor able to adapt the script. It is not the voice's job to change the script, especially if it is a long one and if the changes are extensive. The voice will always be willing to improve on a couple of points in a script, but will not have the time to do a rewrite of the entire narration.

5.         It is often quite obvious who the audience is going to be when reading a script, but if in doubt, translators should not hesitate to ask clients who the intended audience are. If the wrong style is applied, the audience might not be in the position to understand what the voice is saying, or might feel they are treated like little children or talked down. Words that might be technically correct might not be understood by that specific audience or a jargon word might be confusing to the uninitiated.

The style of address will vary if the film is aimed at teaching a group of mechanics how to replace a part in an engine or if it is to tell surgeons how to make a heart transplant. In some languages like French, Italian, Spanish, German and Welsh something as basic as the use of the formal and the informal way of addressing people must sometimes be discussed with clients. For example the informal form might be agreed for one programme in one language but the formal form of address might be used for the same programme in another language. In Europe certainly the age of the audience might have to be taken into consideration as well, to establish which form to use. In other languages, like Japanese, the relationship between the speaker and the audience has to be confirmed as the viewers could easily be offended if the wrong style was used. Translators need to try to immerse themselves in the given language of the audience concerned; this of course applies equally to written documents, with the added difficulty of accessibility. It is sometimes very rewarding to have a chat with someone from the company in the target country. When working via agencies this might not be very easy to achieve, but it is well worth trying. Finding out if the company in question has got its own television station, which does happen nowadays with some large corporations, is another way to discover the speaking style of that specific group of people. An Internet site with videos might also be available to help translators acquire a feeling for that specific company. 

6.         Homonyms do not cause a problem very often but when they do it can be quite serious. The one example springing to mind is the name of a car simply called MR2 in the United Kingdom, nothing bad at all about that, unless you pronounce it in French and you get the sound "merde"! The manufacturers were well advised and changed the name in French. There are also words which are technically correct, but have acquired another popular meaning. When the Greek philosopher Aristotle took to teaching his students by walking around with them the word peripatetician was coined, from the Greek walking around. So this very respectable word can be used to describe that style of teaching, however, in French again, the word is more commonly used in the feminine form péripatéticienne and describes a lady walking the streets waiting for customers. It might not be the right word to use if you are explaining a new method of coaching to a group of mechanics!!! There are other cases when the written word does not create any problems at all, however once spoken it sounds like something else which cannot be used. Here again reading aloud is a good way to iron out these little hiccoughs. 

Anything that will unintentionally distract the audience from the message is to be avoided. Wrong word, wrong tone, wrong style will be highly counterproductive. The viewers will not have the opportunity to wind back the corporate video to watch a sequence again. If the viewer is distracted, part of the message will not be taken in and the company investment will have been wasted.

Another element that has to be taken into consideration is familiar to translators of the written word as well. Clients are always in a hurry to have the translation done for "yesterday"! The "newsroom" syndrome is prevalent in most industries in our 24/7 world and translators of the spoken word are not exempt from it. Time management is of the essence for translators as well as everyone else to be able to deal with ever more demanding clients.


An expanding market


            Translators of the spoken word are lucky to be faced with an expanding market. There are ever more television channels. Videos are released on DVDs where viewers have the possibility of choosing from a number of languages the version they wish to watch. The Internet is full of multilingual professional productions. Films are dubbed in many countries, games are localised.

            That is not all, in the corporate market there are many new fields requiring more and more translations of the spoken word.

eLearning has exploded in the past ten years with hours and hours of material being translated and then recorded in a number of languages. Globalisation has seen an incredible increase in the number of countries where multinationals are running new operations. They use the spoken word to communicate their message to their clients and they have done that for a long time, but now they also use it to train or inform their workforce as well in their own language.

Telephone prompts for example are not only the standard answering prompts played when all staff members are busy doing something else in their huge corporation. Pharmaceutical companies make studies using the telephone when in the past they would have sent a wad of paper to doctors, nurses and patients to find out the effects of a given drug. The sheets of paper would have had to be filled in and then sent back. Someone would have had to collate the data and then analyse it. The study using the telephone is a much more efficient way to obtain the same information as the replies can be gathered automatically and the data processed by a computer.

Banks and credit card companies use a large number of recorded prompts to answer clients' questions, not always admittedly to the entire satisfaction of the clients concerned who would have preferred to speak to a real person. Here again such a system seems to be much more cost effective to the organisation that uses it, certainly in the short term.

Sooner or later no one will be able to read a map to get anywhere as navigation systems are becoming more and more popular. Most of them not only have verbal announcements, but also voice recognition software installed so that drivers can ask questions without having to look at the screen or use one hand to enter the data. All these require translations of the spoken word style in an increasing number of languages. All the developed countries have them, the developing countries are starting to use them as well and it is only a matter of time for other less rich countries to start having enough cars to justify the use of a GPS.

It is now a legal requirement for Airlines to have their safety announcements in the languages of the people they carry; this has created a wealth of recordings for many voices and of course just as much work for translators of the spoken word.

Politics has also increased the number of languages since 1989. The demise of the Soviet Union means that Russian is not the acceptable lingua franca in many of the ex-soviet republics. Furthermore when one translation was required in Czechoslovakia, now Czech and/or Slovak might be required and in the ex-Yugoslavia Serbo-Croatian has been replaced by Croatian, Bosnian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Serbian, Slovene, and Albanian spoken in Kosovo.

It is not only on planes that announcements are being used to inform the travelling public, they can be found on tubes/metros, buses, trains and at train stations and airports. The technical quality of these announcements is increasing and can actually be understood in most cases. The quality varies a lot depending on how serious the organisation needing the Public Announcement systems is. Good translations, good voices and good recordings cost more and the difference can be heard. 

There is an added bonus in the above mentioned applications. The majority of translators are female and for technical reasons, female voices are used in these applications. In a noisy environment like a car, an airport, a train or a public place the voice frequency of ladies cut through the noise better than the voice frequency of men.


            Translators who take on the translation of a spoken script need to understand they have to adopt a style that will be radically different from the one they normally use. Translation students need to be trained to write the spoken word as well as the written one.

The market is growing and it is well worth looking at these new fields and potentially new clients, whether you are an existing and experienced translator or training to be one. Some will want to train their voice as well and offer additional services to their existing clients. More and more agencies take on the translations of voice-overs with often dire consequences as their translators are not told, or are told but do not understand what is required of them. The situation has been so bad that some voices have trained themselves to become translators or revisers of translations to the loss of the professional translators. This constant complaining by voices of the poor quality of translations has not contributed to the good reputation of the profession.

The improvement is slow in coming, but in the past few years Universities and Translating schools have become very much aware of the problems and are implementing new courses to train translators. There are impressive facilities in some schools where students are put in an almost real life situation. They have access to work stations with all the necessary software - to watch the film they use VLC, they translate the script presented in two columns on MS Word and once they have done their translations, they can use Window Movie Maker to record their own voice while listening to the original soundtrack. The sound quality might not be usable for broadcast, but it is certainly good enough to ensure the translation is written in a way that is easily read, fits the length of the original and that keywords are synchronised with the picture. This will no doubt lead some translators to become voices in their own right.

Although currently translations are not always perfect for voices, increasing numbers of translators are adapting to the spoken word and learning the new skills that will allow them to produce translations to the standards expected by the voices.

[1] A reel is 10 minutes long; the expression comes from the time when acetate film rolls were used.

[2] In the great majority of cases, clients require native speakers to deliver the script and great care must be taken by native speakers living in another linguistic environment not to lose their original genuine native accent.



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