Sounding it Out

How To Best Prepare For Foreign Sound Recordings/Voiceovers

There are many different situations that require the recording of voice tracks in or translated from foreign languages. Whether you are directly or indirectly involved in the process—if you are familiar with the various solutions and well prepared for every scenario, you can ensure efficiency and high quality results.

Let’s first take a look at one of the most common examples in the field of life sciences. In clinical trials and similar research studies, patient as well as physician interviews play a critical role. More insight is gained by expanding the geographic territory of these studies, but in order to proceed with the evaluations, foreign interview recordings must be translated. Creating a transcript and translating the resulting document is time consuming and costly. Another option is to record the English translation as it is simultaneously interpreted by a professional interpreter in the respective language pair. But what does this solution exactly look like and how do you set it up?
The right format
The initial step is similar to what you would do if you were to get a written transcript of the interview(s): you need to make the audio files available to your language support provider of choice. Most likely, the interviews were recorded with a Dictaphone or similar device. Many Dictaphones have proprietary or obscure file formats, so if you can first convert the files to .mp3 or .wav before forwarding them, you will save the time and cost that would be involved if the language company or interpreter were to perform the conversion.
The right linguist
Your project is then to be assigned to a simultaneous interpreter who can record his or her own voice to create an English audio file, which should also be .mp3 or .wav, so you can play it back on your audio player without problems. An interpreter, as opposed to a translator, translates the spoken word, and a simultaneous interpreter does this—you guessed it—at the same time that the original text is spoken. In the world of language translation, this is a highly specialized field, only mastered by linguists with corresponding training and experience. To create the English track for your interviews, he or she will listen to the original, translate what is said verbally while listening and record it in the process. Since this approach leaves no time for research, make any supporting documents you may have (summary, questionnaire, product list, names) available to the interpreter.
The right budget
When budgeting time and cost for the recording, the sound quality of the original makes a difference, as does the clarity of interviewer and interviewee. The interpreter will have to go back to listen to the original track if he cannot understand what is being said, thus adding additional time to the real time of the recording. Regardless of quality and clarity, your budget needs to allow for breaks since simultaneous interpreting is commonly performed in 20-30 minutes blocks—it requires such a high level of concentration that it can only be effectively produced for this amount of time, which is why in any ‘live’ situation (e.g. at conferences), simultaneous interpreters work in pairs.
The right script
But what do you do if you need promotional materials in foreign languages? Radio ads, or voiceovers for web or TV? Interpreters are not the right choice, since you need a carefully adapted copy in the respective language(s) that matches the original but takes into consideration linguistic and cultural differences. While you most likely will have an ad agency or production company assist you with your international promotions, knowing what it entails to create successful versions for each target market can guide you in your interactions with advertising and producing partners.
The right voice
In this scenario, translators specializing in the adaptation of advertising and other creative materials are best suited to create the foreign language copy from your final original before it is recorded by native voiceover talent in the respective language(s). For the recording process, which should take place in a professional recording studio owned or booked by the ad agency or production company, it is extremely helpful to bring in a dialect coach/co-director in the foreign language to ensure the right tone as well as perfect fluency of the recording. To play it safe, it may even be advisable to run the casting tapes by a trusted translator in the respective language, and to make sure that the language variant matches the target market (e.g. Castilian for Spain, Canadian French for Canada). Asking the dialect coach/co-director to stay while editing or running the final copy by him or her will eliminate mistakes that could result when cutting the ad—if the editor does not speak the language, he may accidentally cut out a word or get the order mixed up.
The right choice
Last but not least, you may be considering foreign language versions of your instructional, training or corporate videos. If you are opting against subtitles and prefer voiceovers, you still have the choice of the two options outlined above. For straightforward material, the more cost-effective possibility of recording the simultaneous interpretation could be right for you. If exact phrasing and wording is critical, it may be better to invest in creating written foreign language versions to then be recorded as voiceovers. Since the sound will be set to video, it would be best in both cases to do the recordings at a professional studio.
Apart from knowing the different approaches to foreign sound recording, which will enable you to make an informed decision and give effective instructions to other entities involved, your best bet to be well-prepared in any foreign language recording situation is to:
– Provide as much supporting information as possible.
– Ensure that original audio material is in the right format and of the best possible quality and all material to be translated in its final version.
The result will be sonically and linguistically sound.

Nanette Gobel, MA

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