Voice-Overs vs Dubbing: Which Should You Use?

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Organisations around the world use voice-overs and dubbing to connect their content with global audiences.

One of the primary uses of voice-overs and dubbing is in the world of marketing and promotional content. For instance, videos on social media platforms can easily reach an international audience numbering in the millions.

Of course, the challenge is that your content needs to be in a language that your target audience can understand. Accurately translating your video content – often using a localisation or even transcreation approach – is vital if you want to demonstrate a true commitment to your regional audiences.

Another major area of voice-over and dubbing use is in instructional content such as staff training videos and e-learning courses. Speaking to your audience of learners in their native language has been proven to increase learning outcomes and knowledge retention, meaning it’s a priority for smart course providers.

But which should you use: voice-overs or dubbing? In this article, we’ll find out.

Voice-overs vs dubbing: what’s the difference?

Though they are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some very important differences between voice-overs and dubbing:

What is a voice-over?

A voice-over involves a new language track being overlaid on top of the original audio recording. There are usually said to be two different types:

1) “UN-style voice-over”

When you are listening to an UN-style voice-over, you can usually still hear the original audio track at a lower volume in the background.

If you’ve ever heard a person being interviewed on the news and their words being translated over the top of what they are saying, you will be familiar with the effect.

2) “Off-screen narration” or “off-camera voice-over”

Voice-overs are also often used when the original speaker cannot be seen on screen. For example, in an instructional or promotional video. In this case, the original audio track is often removed in its entirety.

Creating a voice-over involves a translated version of the original script or a translation of a transcript of the words used in a video. This translated version is then recorded by a narrator or voice-over artist before being placed over the video.

What is dubbing?

Dubbing involves completely replacing the original audio performance with a version in a new language. The new audio is designed to mesh perfectly with the actors’ performance on the screen.

The new audio performance will usually be truly acted out. This involves one or more voice actors recreating the tone, emotion and nuance of the original actor’s performance, including things like laughter, crying and a full range of expression. It usually takes one of two forms:

1) “Language replacement” or “voice replacement” dubbing

Voice replacement involves replacing the original audio performance with one in a new language.

The new performance will be fully “acted” out, but zero or minimal efforts will be made to match the new audio with the on-screen lip movements of the actors. For this reason, this approach is sometimes called “dialogue replacement” or “fake lip-sync”.

2) “Lip-syncing” or “lip-sync dubbing”

Lip-sync dubbing involves matching the original on-screen actors’ lip movements with the words of the new audio performance as much as possible.

The most important factor in creating good lip-synced audio content is the quality of the translation of the original script. This needs to involve a careful selection of words and phrases that convey the same message as the original dialogue. Simultaneously, those words need to require the same lip movements as the original performance – but in another language.

Needless to say, this is an incredibly challenging task if the end result is going to be a natural and immersive audiovisual experience.

Ideal projects for dubbing or voice-overs

There are rough rules of thumb that can guide your decision as to whether to use voice-overs or dubbing in any given project:

Use a voice-over when…

You want to directly translate information for a new audience or for creative storytelling. Ideal projects for voice-overs often include shorter content where translation is the main objective, such as for digital learning, instructional content or news stories.

Here, the focus is on information not usually the tone, emotional content or nuance of delivery.

Use dubbing when…

You want to convey the original speaker’s intent or emotion nuance or when you want to conceal the fact or minimise the effect of the content having been translated. Ideal projects for dubbing often include television series and films or content intended for children or perhaps adults who may be illiterate.

Dubbing requires much more work so that the final performance can match the nuance and tone as well as perhaps things like equivalent accents or dialects of the original performance.

The upside is that information conveyed in this way is often much more easily retained and the message much richer and more natural to a native audience. That’s on top of it being much better for entertainment purposes.

Voice-overs and dubbing: pros and cons

Both approaches to translating audio content (and their subsidiary types) have certain advantages and disadvantages that can help guide your decision towards the most suitable option for your current content.

Here is a summary of the important details to bear in mind when making your decision:

1) Voice-over (UN-style)

  • Cost-effective – Because there is usually only a need for one or two voice actors and there is no need to create a fully lip-synced script, UN-style voice-overs are often the most cost-effective audio translations to create.
  • Highly accurate – with only a need to match the pace of the video but none to lip-sync, the new version of an UN-style voice-over can prioritise the complete accuracy of the translation.
  • Time-limited – the presence of the original audio track underneath the new audio performance can prove distracting or irritating to listeners if the length of the video is not kept short.

2) Voice-over (off-camera)

  • Enhances trust and authority – the off-camera voice is known to deliver a sense of trust and cohesion to the information presented in a video.
  • Can cohere a video with multiple parts or actors – if there are multiple performers in a video, off-camera narration can help to bring the different parts together.
  • Can interfere with information delivery if used poorly – in some cases, injecting off-screen narration into a video where it’s not required can damage the overall quality by providing an unneeded distraction.

3) Dubbing (voice replacement)

  • More cost-effective than lip-sync – voice replacement dubbing is more cost-effective than full lip-sync dubbing but retains some of the advantages in terms of audience engagement.
  • Still requires multiple vocal talents – unlike most voice-overs, which usually have at most one male and one female voice actor, even voice replacement dubbed content often requires a full cast of vocal talent.
  • Uncomfortable middle-ground – voice replacement dubbing occupies a slightly strange space between the true cost-effectiveness of UN-style voice-overs and the full conversion of a lip-synced dubbing performance. There are a few projects – for instance, short acted segments in a training course – where it can be beneficial though.

4) Dubbing (lip-synced)

  • The most immersive audiovisual experience – high-quality lip-synced dubbing can appear completely natural to an audience, leading them to imagine that the content was designed just for them. The new performance will convey all of the emotion and power of the original.
  • Allows your audience to focus on the visual – today, even many creators of Japanese anime recommend dubbed audio for foreign audiences. This is because dubbing allows audiences to focus on the art on the screen. The same is true of the director’s vision and the original cast’s performance in live-action video.
  • Can be more expensive – because it requires a full, usually carefully recruited, voice cast as well as extensive script localisation or transcreation if it is to be effective, lip-synced dubbing is usually the most expensive variety of audio translation.
  • Calls for skilled professionals – localising aspects of the original script such as humour and cultural references while still retaining the original pacing, timing and also making the on-screen lip movements match the words to be used is incredibly challenging. It requires highly skilled professional translators as well as often being quite time-consuming.
  • Can be less accurate – the need to match new audio and original video performance so closely often calls for some leeway when it comes to precise translation. This is often necessary, as elements such as humour often require completely re-imagining if they are to be funny to a new audience from a wholly different culture.

Voice-overs and dubbing vs subtitling

Subtitling is a common alternative to voice-overs in particular. There are several reasons why you might prefer to create a voice-over for your video content instead of subtitling:

  • Keeps the focus on the visual – nuances of body language, performance, background details and more can be lost if the viewer needs to split their attention between the visual action and the words at the bottom of the screen.
  • Important for e-learning – in instructional and educational content, it is important that learners be allowed to absorb information both through what is intended from the visual and audio portions of the content in question. Subtitles can distract from this.
  • Maximises screen space – in order to be read at a reasonable distance, subtitles often need to be of a size that takes up a certain amount of screen space. This can obscure important visual details.
  • Avoids text expansion problems – translated text can often take up more space than the original. For instance, original content in English translated into German can take up to as much as 30% more space. This can be challenging for subtitle creators as there is a need to balance the pacing of the subtitles with both what is happening on the screen and comfortable reading speed.

That said, there are also some reasons why subtitling services can still be a highly effective way to provide a translation for your video content.

For example, many social media autoplay functions start videos playing in silent mode. Having subtitles for your audience’s preferred languages allows you to grab their attention in that key initial moment.

Voice-overs and dubbing vs transcripts

A transcript is a written record of audio content or the audio part of a video.

Transcripts can be highly useful for reference purposes. They can also add fantastic benefits in terms of multilingual SEO and searchability of content when used for learning purposes or as an adjunct to video or audio content, especially when that content is to be posted online and you want it to be found.

However, a transcript is not usually seen as a suitable alternative for content that really should have a voice-over or dubbing. Watching a video in a language you don’t know while referring to a transcript in your preferred language is rarely a good way to learn or absorb content.

In fact, creating a transcript of an original audio performance can be a necessary step that’s part of the process of creating a high-quality voice-over. Such as when the original video was unscripted, for example.

Voice-overs vs dubbing – which should you use?

The type of project you are working on will be the main driving force governing the right audio translation approach to use.

Voice-overs can be the best choice for a great deal of educational content and advertising. Especially if you want to keep translation costs down.

On the other hand, dubbing – especially full lip-synced dubbing – creates a matchless recreation of the tone and nuance of the original audio performance. This is often much more natural and effective both for viewers of entertainment as well as for those learning from acted segments of instructional content, where this approach can help minimise distraction from your course materials.

Other options like subtitles and even transcripts can also be suitable for some projects. Though this is often as adjuncts or helpful extras paired with things like educational content or social media videos where there will also be a voice-over or dubbed version available.

Yet when it comes down to the final decision of voice-over vs dubbing, which to use will be a decision also including other key factors such as available budget. Meaning that it’s a choice that will almost always require careful thought.

Looking to create powerful voice-overs or dubbing for your video content?

Kwintessential helps all kinds of organisations create accurate, persuasive or educational dubbing and voice-overs for all kinds of purposes. E-learning. Instructional. Promotional. Entertainment.

Tell us about your latest project today. We’ll be happy to provide a free quote and more information about how we’ll help you translate it for a new audience.

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