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What is audiovisual translation?

January 10 , 2022

What is audiovisual translation?

by Target Language Translation Services

- January 10 2022

audiovisual translation

Nowadays video has become vital to marketing strategies. With the expansion of digital video content, it is natural that much of that content demands to be localized and translated.

Audiovisual translation is a term that encompasses many disciplines and tasks performed by professionals who help localize audiovisual content, i.e., movies, TV shows, corporate videos, commercials and many more. Even though some of those tasks do not require a language exchange (such as same language closed captioning, audio description, etc.), we refer to it as “translation” because there is actually rendering between two different aspects: the audio portion of the video and the written word which we produce (i.e., subtitles, captions, a script for dubbing or audio description.)

Content of Audiovisual Translation

The tasks that an audiovisual translator can work on are many:


This can be in the same language as the audio of the video or translated into a different language. It involves utilizing a special software to time the subtitles.


After another professional has created subtitles with a specific software transcribing the dialogues in the same language as the audio, the linguist translates those subtitles into another language.

Creation of subtitle templates

Utilizing a subtitling software, the professional creates subtitles in the same language as the audio of the video with the purpose of sending them over to a translator who will localize them into another language.

Closed Captioning (or CC)

This is the creation of subtitles for the deaf using special software. These captions are generally in the same language as the audio, although sometimes they are available in a different language. The captions need to be switched on and include sound effects, speaker identification, and other audio information that enables the deaf person to access the content in a way that approximates the hearing audience’s access.

SDH (subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing)

Technically similar to subtitles, and include most auditory information, just like closed captions. These are mainly created in the same language as the audio of the video and the professional has to use a subtitling software to produce them.


The translator creates a script that will later be used by voice talents to record the dubbing of a video in a professional recording studio. Linguists need to be aware of special aspects of the dubbing process and incorporate certain cues to be able to produce a text that will be readily interpreted by dubbing actors.

Audio Description (or AD)

This is a different audio track where a narrator describes what is going on onscreen or onstage, intended mainly for the blind and visually impaired. Linguists write a script that will later be narrated live (in the case of the performing arts) or recorded in a professional studio (in the case of films or TV shows).


This is the act of transcribing the content of an audio track or a video in the same language. Transcriptions are generally required in legal contexts, and sometimes they aid the edition or montage of a film.

Some Challenges of Translation

Here are the main challenges an audiovisual translator faces daily.

Time and Space Constraints

The subtitle must be displayed on the screen during the appropriate time. The audience should have enough time to read the text, and the text should not cover more space than necessary on the screen. Even a translation deemed grammatically perfect, with the most accurate terminology, could be considered useless if your viewer can’t read it. Reading speed varies according to the audience (e.g., children, adults, level of education, to name a few). So, the decision about how many characters to display per second is relative to your viewing public.

Inter-Semiotic Translation

Audiovisual translators are not only translating text from one language to another. They are converting spoken words into written form. As such, they must consider congruence with all the other visual signs, including gestures, expressions, and images hitting the audience at the same time. That’s why the ability to render full meaning with concise text, while respecting its context, is so important. Information must be prioritized to convey the right message and avoid dissonance.


With this type of translation, there’s a constant need to handle with technical aspects. It’s common to have audio or video format problems, and audiovisual translators need to know how to convert files and adhere to technical specifications presented by the client or that are inherent in the product you need to deliver. Does the client want you to provide the subtitles in .srt, .sub, .ttml, .xml . . . ? Do they want you to embed the subtitles to the video? Is the subtitle time-coded to the correct frame rate? Many such questions can arise.

Shot Changes

The subtitles should follow the audio but also respect what’s happening visually. For instance, when there’s a shot change and the camera shifts away from the speaker, you risk your subtitles being left hanging. Any such glitch will affect the viewer and break their immersion in the visual experience.

This article is reprinted from American Translators Association and ATA Audiovisual Division.

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