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Audiovisual Translation

Audiovisual translation

What is audiovisual translation?

Do you like watching the original version of foreign films to practice listening to the language, or to hear the actors’ real voices? Do you use subtitles in this language to help you follow what is being said? Or subtitles in your native language to make sure you understand? Do you prefer watching films in your own language? Audiovisual translation makes this all possible. Audiovisual translation, also known as AVT or, in TAV in Spanish, is the translation of media containing visual and auditory content. In other words, it is the process of translating and adapting the content of audiovisual texts into different languages.

The most famous types of audiovisual translation in the film industry are dubbing and subtitling, but this category also includes several other modes of translation.

Modes of audiovisual translation


  • What is subtitling?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘subtitles’ as “Captions displayed at the bottom of a cinema or television screen that translate or transcribe the dialogue or narrative”. In other words, subtitling is putting the sounds in a film or programme into words that appear on the screen.

  • What content is normally subtitled?

Any audiovisual product can be subtitled, from films for the big screen and programmes and documentaries for TV channels and streaming services, to video games, video tutorials, e-learning platforms and more.

  • Types of subtitling

Interlingual subtitling: this is the most common type. All the important sounds are translated into another language and displayed on the screen in writing. Films in English are very often subtitled in other languages, including Spanish.

Intralingual subtitling: here, the dialogue and other relevant sounds are transcribed rather than translated. This means that the subtitles are in the same language as the dialogue, and they provide any other information that the viewer needs to understand the storyline in writing. For example, relevant background noises or elements of the soundtrack will be included in the subtitles. An example would be an English film with subtitles in English. This type of subtitling is intended for deaf people and the hard of hearing, but it is also used in language learning contexts.

There are certain norms in the field that need to be followed when subtitling audiovisual products for deaf people, such as the characters-per-second limit, which makes sure that the subtitles are kept at a given reading speed.

  • The subtitling process

Video transcription: if the subtitler or subtitling team do not have access to the original script, the first step is to transcribe the video, turning all the relevant sounds into text.

Spotting: this is the step that ensures that the subtitles are readable. It involves adding time codes to the transcription to show when each subtitle should appear and disappear. The amount of time the subtitle will be on the screen determines how long it can be.

Translation: the greatest difficulty the translator faces at this stage is the need to summarise or expand on the information so that it fits into the timeframe while still being readable.

Subtitle embedding: this is the final stage in the subtitling process, when the subtitles are inserted into the audiovisual product.


Audiovisual translation 1
  • What is audiodescription?

Audiodescription is audiovisual translation for blind or visually impaired people. The purpose of this translation mode is to ensure that blind and visually impaired people have all the auditory information they need to understand an audiovisual product. All the information conveyed by the images is translated into words.

  • What is audiodescription used for?

Audio description allows blind and visually impaired people to understand and enjoy any audiovisual product. While blind people are not able to see the visual stimuli that are required to understand audiovisual products such as films, any comprehension difficulty can be removed using audiodescription. Audiodescription is also available for books.

  • The audiodescription process

The process consists of creating a script which is then inserted into the audiovisual product as a voice-over.

Both subtitling and audio description are audiovisual translation modes used to make audiovisual products accessible to people with disabilities.


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  • What is dubbing?

Dubbing is an audiovisual translation mode in which the original actors’ voices are replaced with lines in the target language recorded by professional voice actors in a way that looks natural to the audience. The translation of the original dialogue is adjusted to match the characters’ lip movements. Dubbers are translation industry professionals who work as actors who interpret the text.

Translations for dubbing should not be literal, since dubs are supposed to have the same effect on their target audience as the original version. This means that the translator needs to be creative, adapting the double meanings, jokes and references to the target language and culture.

  • The dubbing process

Translation: the original script for the audiovisual product is translated. Throughout this process, the translator makes any cultural adaptations that are necessary for the viewer to understand the product.

Lip-syncing: the dialogue is synchronised with the characters’ visible lip movements. At this stage, lines may need to be made shorter or longer than in the direct translation.

Dubbing is the most common type of audiovisual translation in the film industry.

Video game localisation

Video game localisation
  • What is video game localisation?

Video game localisation is the process of adapting video games so that they can be exported to a foreign market.  To achieve this, the dialogue in the original product needs to be adapted to the target language. This includes adapting the sounds in the new dialogue to the characters’ lip movements. This involves a high degree of creativity, as the translator needs to adapt the double meanings, jokes and cultural references in the script so that the target audience will understand them.

  • What parts of video games are localised?

Video game localisers work with three main text types: on-screen text such as menus, scripts for spoken dialogue that will need to be dubbed, and instruction manuals and box art.

  • The video game localisation process

Video game localisation involves three different processes: translation and cultural adaptation, audio recording and testing.

Localisers who translate and adapt video games to a new culture often face a particular problem. Audiovisual translators often only have the script for the characters’ dialogue without any images from the game, which is still in development. This makes their work more difficult and can lead to submission delays.

Subordinate translation

  • What is subordinate translation

Subordinate translation is a type of translation that is constrained by factors outside of the text’s linguistic content, such as specific lip movements and their timing in films, or the amount of space in a comic’s speech bubbles.

  • Which texts involve subordinate translation?

Film scripts for dubbing and subtitling, songs, comics and more.


  • What is voice-over?

Voice-over is a production technique in which a voice recording is played on top of the voice of the original speaker. This technique is often used in documentaries and reality TV shows to increase the credibility and drama, which helps to boost ratings.

  • What is the difference between dubbing and voice-over?

Unlike translations for dubbing, voice-overs are not adapted to the characters’ lip movements. This means that a voice-over line can be longer than the original line and add more information if needed.

  • The voice-over process

An audiovisual translator creates a script using the images and dialogue in the original audiovisual product. Dialogue in the voice-over happens at the same time as in the original, but they are not synchronised with the speakers’ lip movements. The voice-over has the same meaning as the original audio.

Just like with all translations that will be published, recorded or sold, the script must then be revised by another translator before being passed on to the person responsible for selecting the voices and producing the translation. This person will adjust the length of lines and the wording of the script if these changes are necessary.

The final step in this process is recording the voices in a studio.

Characteristics of audiovisual translators

Besides the standard skills that all translators have, such as creativity and in-depth knowledge of the source and target languages, audiovisual translators need specialised training, such as a master’s degree in audiovisual translation.

Audiovisual translators need to be able to summarise the information in the original text and adjust it to a given maximum reading speed (measured in characters per second), or to particular timings or lip movements.

Why not use automatic translation?

Some automatic translation programmes, such as Google Translate, translate full texts without knowing the context, or without taking the multiple possible meanings of individual words into account. Ultimately, these tools are incapable of understanding the connotations and double meanings that occur in every language. As a result, texts very often lose their meaning when these programmes are used, and their translations contain numerous incoherent phrases. Furthermore, automatic translators cannot translate visual information, which is essential in audiovisual translation.

Our audiovisual translation languages

At Acantho I&C, we work with more than fifty of the world’s languages, including the most in-demand European languages such as Spanish, English, French, German, Italian and Portuguese.

If you need audiovisual translation into any other language, please don’t hesitate to ask. We’ll give you a personalised, obligation-free quote at no cost.

Why you shoud choose Acantho for your audiovisual translations

We are a translation company. We love translation. If you’re looking for real experts in audiovisual translation, get in touch with Acantho I&C today. If you have any questions or need more information, please call us on (+34) 976 910 302, or send an email to, and we’ll be more than happy to assist you.