Everything you need to know about video translation

26th October 2018

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Translating video content is a unique skillset.

While video translators face many of the same issues as those in other industries, there are distinct challenges associated with working with video content.  Translating for broadcast and media distribution also doesn’t only include video translations -requirements range from legal documents such as artist release forms and copyright agreements to video interview footage and technical documents including post-production scripts and localisation reports.

To help demonstrate the unique challenges of being a video translator, we’ve put this A to Z explanation of video translation together.


AI – Video translation apps and translation software

Mankind has spent just under a century trying to develop a machine-based translation tool.  Governments, institutions like the Rockefeller Foundation, tech companies like IBM and the world’s biggest search engines have all invested enormous amounts of time and money in researching and developing the technology that will (possibly) make human translators redundant in the future.  Today, a simple web search reveals dozens of translation apps and software solutions that offer automated language services, and there is no doubt that these systems are already making it easier, quicker and cheaper to translate everything from website copy to emails and even complex business information.

Up until very recently, though, human translators still proved superior to AI translators.  In the Human vs AI translation battle in South Korea in 2017 three translation engines were pitted against five professional translators and, while the machines were much faster than their human counterparts, the human translators won the contest based on quality.  But experts forecast that automated technology is improving at a fast rate and may be on the brink of human-level accuracy.


Business – Translating formal & legal docs

Regardless of whether you’re translating for video or other business, it’s crucial to have legal documents translated professionally because an incorrect translation can lead to extremely serious consequences.  Here’s an example of how the incorrect translation of a legal document had such serious consequences that it almost led to war.

“False friends” are words in two languages that look or sound similar but differ significantly in meaning.  The French verb “demander” is a case in point – it looks like the English word ‘demand’ but actually means ‘to ask.’  In 1830 this ‘false friend’ hindered negotiations between the American and French governments when President Jackson’s secretary mistranslated the message ‘Le gouvernement français demande…” as “The French Government demands…” He replied that, as the French had the audacity to demand something from the American government, they would receive nothing. Fortunately, the error was corrected, and negotiations continued.


CarnetInternational productions

If you’ve ever had to travel internationally for a shoot you should be familiar with carnets. A carnet (pronounced kar-nay) is an international customs and temporary export-import document that is used to clear customs in 87 countries and territories without paying duties and import taxes on merchandise that will be re-exported within 12 months.  Carnets are also known as Merchandise Passports or Passports for Goods and you can’t get your camera equipment through border control without one.  If your shoot requires a carnet, there’s a good chance you’ll be dealing with foreign languages on your production and may need translation services.


Data Using data to speed up the translation process


Translations are a key part of localising video content for distribution in different territories.  Currently the localisation process is treated completely separately to the original production process, with different teams preparing whatever materials they need for delivery compliance and access services for each.  But the post-production (or as-broadcast) script contains a lot of the data that localisation teams need to translate and prepare video content for use across the world – it’s just inaccessible in its current format.  If we produce the post-production script in XML, we gain the ability to re-purpose the original data into the various scripts and reports needed throughout the entire content supply chain – including things like speaker lists for translation and dubbing.


Editing – Post-producing foreign language content  

Editing footage that features dialogue in a foreign language can be challenging if no-one on the team speaks that language.  To solve this, you can either transcribe and then translate the original rushes, and use the translated transcriptions to inform the edit, or you can hire a translator to sit in on the edit and translate “on the fly.”  Each of these approaches has their advantages and drawbacks.  While translating the transcribed footage is a cheaper option and provides the opportunity to plan your cut before you go into the edit, there are bound to be some questions that come up during the edit around sentence structure and appropriate cutting points. Conversely, using a live translator in the edit suite will increase costs – both in terms of translation costs and edit time – but will save you the time and expense of having to back and forth with language queries.


File formats – Translating video content

It’s unlikely that any translator will work from original video files, which means that, for video translations, you will have to get your content transcribed before you can get it translated (transcribing video content for translations is the process of converting all the audio content in the video into text.)  But not all transcription companies are accustomed or equipped to deal with video formats.  Specialist video transcription companies, like Take 1, design their workflows to accommodate secure video file upload and delivery of transcriptions and translations in a variety of file formats.


Glossary of terms – Creating consistent video translations

It’s been reported that 15 percent of all translation project costs arise from rework, and the primary cause of that rework is inconsistent terminology in the original version.  Compiling a common phrase list or a glossary of terms that includes technical terminology can help improve the quality of translations, and it’s a fool-proof way of ensuring consistency across big volumes of content.

But, creating technical terminology and common phrase lists are only worth the effort if these are being used across multiple translations – you don’t want to produce all this extra data if you only need to translate one video interview with a medical doctor or complete one document.  Using human translators that are subject matter specialists is another way of ensuring that technical terminology is translated correctly the first time.


Hindi translations – Translating languages that use different alphabets

Hindi is the most widely spoken language in India and is spoken by around 500 million people across the world.

Like many Asian, African and Middle Eastern languages, Hindi doesn’t use the Latin or Roman alphabet, but makes use of the Devanagari alphabet which consists of 46 letters.  When video content needs to be translated from Hindi (or any other language that uses a different alphabet) into English it will normally be transliterated first – which means that the spoken words will be written (or transcribed) using the English alphabet rather than the Hindi alphabet before they’re translated.

This process sometimes results in the phonetic version of the words written in the Latin alphabet becoming adopted into English language. English has borrowed a number of words from the Hindi language with loan words including avatar, bandanna, bungalow, nirvana, punch, pyjamas, sorbet, shampoo, thug, typhoon and yoga.

Intelligent Editing – When literal translations don’t make sense

Translating video content for distribution into different geographies requires more than just language and technical skills.  Depending on where the content is going to be shown and the culture and religious beliefs of the intended viewers, the original translations may need to be tweaked to ensure that the final product is appropriate for the audience.  This “intelligent editing” can include anything from ensuring that the tone and style of language used is appropriate to rewording idioms into sayings that apply in the target language instead of applying a literal translation.

Intelligent editing also applies to translation memory and machine learning that are used by almost every translation software provider on the market to improve the quality of translations over time.  The idea is that, each time you make a correction or add a key term, the software learns and remembers this information so that you never have to correct the same mistake twice.


Japanese translationstranslating languages with different rules

Japanese is one of most difficult languages in the world to translate.  Some of the main reasons for this are;

  • the language relies on a complex style of writing called kanji,
  • many Japanese words or phrases have no English equivalent and
  • it has a unique approach to grammar – including the fact that there are no plurals in the Japanese language.

This makes it very difficult for translators to ensure that the meaning of the original content is retained once it’s translated from or into Japanese.  It’s therefore essential that anyone translating to or from Japanese is fluent in both languages, that sufficient time is allowed for the translation process and that the final product is reviewed by another language specialist to ensure that the content has retained the intended


Knowledge – What it takes to become a video translator

Besides being educated to a degree level with a post-graduate qualification in translation and the obvious multi-lingual skills, translators also need to be familiar with the culture of the relevant countries. Clients rely on translators to ensure that content translated into a new language is not only accurate, but appropriate for the territories you translate for.  For example, while English is spoken as a first language by people in many different countries all over the world, there are nuances to how the language is spoken in different geographies – like the use of the word pants to describe trousers in America and underwear in England.

To succeed as a video translation specialist, you should have a broad understanding of the video production process and equipment used as well as specific understanding of the localisation process and how translated content is used in edits and to create subtitles and dubbing scripts.

Languages – human translator vs online translator

There are somewhere between 6500 and 7100 living languages in the world today – and even if you deduct the, approximately 2000, languages that have less than 1000 speakers, you’re still left with a pretty big number.

Google translate boasts that it can translate content into over a hundred languages, but other leading machine-learning translators support less than 60.  While it makes sense that translation software developers would only create databases for languages for which there is likely to be a demand for translations, that’s not much consolation if you want to translate content into a language like Hawaiian, which is one of the approximately 2500 critically endangered languages that probably won’t be supported.  If you’re using human translators, while it may be difficult to find translators that are fluent in less-spoken languages, as long as there are people who speak the language, you can get it translated.

Interestingly, almost half of the world’s population claims one of only 10 languages as their mother tongue.  Here are the top 10 most spoken languages in the world in 2018, according to BBC News Hub.

  1. Chinese
  2. Spanish
  3. English
  4. Hindi
  5. Arabic
  6. Portuguese
  7. Bengali
  8. Russian
  9. Japanese
  10. Punjabi


Mother Tongue and Natural language – making translated content less noticeable

Your mother tongue is the language that you learnt as a baby and grew up speaking and it’s normally the language you’re most proficient in.  A mother tongue translator’s skill extends beyond just language skill to their innate understanding of a region’s culture, way of life and how they communicate.  This “general knowledge” means that language specialists translating into their mother tongue are more likely to use natural language and will almost always provide an end product of a superior quality..


On-screen translations – the challenges of being a subtitle translator

While translating video content is a specialised skill in itself, translating video content for display on-screen as subtitles requires an in-depth understanding of the way the translations will be used.  Subtitles have to be created around a number of considerations including a limit to the number of characters and lines that can be displayed at a time, the need for subtitles to begin and end at logical points in the sentence, matching the edit cutting points and ensuring that the subtitles are displayed for long enough to be read at an average reading speed.

Translators creating video subtitle content will need to be able to balance the need to accurately translate the original version with these technical considerations and intelligently edit the translations accordingly.


Proofreading & Quality Assurance the importance of review

None of us are infallible.  Despite their language skills and training, even the most experienced translator will make some mistakes and that’s why it’s so important that translations are proofread before being shared.  A third-party review is the best approach to quality assurance as, when you’ve become familiar with a written piece, your brain interprets what it wants or expects to read rather than what it is actually there, and it sometimes takes a ‘fresh eye’ to break the pattern.


Release Formpreparing for international productions

If you’re a filmmaker and you intend to sell your films or documentaries you’ll need to acquire a video release form in order to avoid legal complications in the future. Release forms are legal documents signed by anyone appearing on camera to give you permission to include them in your production.  The people that sign a release form might be professional actors, presenters, interviewees or members of the public.  If you’re shooting in multiple locations across the world, you’ll need your release forms translated into a number of different languages.


Subtitles vs Dubbing – the pros and cons

Both subtitles and dubbing are used to translate dialogue or voice-over on TV programmes, movies and online videos.  Subtitles display translated content on-screen as text while dubbing uses voice artists to replace the actual audio content.  While both are effective, dubbing is a more expensive approach as it involves the use of different voice-over artists for each language and time in a dubbing studio to record the replacement audio.  Creating and placing subtitles requires additional time in the edit suite, but it’s still a more cost-effective approach to video translation.


Transcriptions and Timecodes – a critical relationship for video translations

As detailed in the explanation of file formats earlier, the original-language version of a video is normally transcribed before it’s translated.  Video transcriptions don’t only detail the audio content in text format, but also stipulate other details like the speaker’s name and at what timecode the audio can be heard.  Timecode is a sequence of numbers generated at regular intervals, similar to a clock or timestamp – with hours, minutes, seconds and frames being used to measure duration or to synchronize actions.  Time-coded transcriptions and translations are vital to ensuring that subtitled or dubbed versions match the original-language version of the video content.


Upload – the importance of secure workflows

Video producers need to be confident that, when they upload their video content to transcription and translation service providers, these companies have secure systems in place to ensure that programmes aren’t leaked before broadcast.

The DPP’s Committed to Security programme aims to standardise industry practice in implementing security measures and enable service providers in the industry to show that they have a structured approach to address cybersecurity.  In July 2018 ITV and Channel 4 announced that all suppliers and vendors delivering content or services to either broadcaster must have received the DPP Committed to Security mark by January and July of 2019 respectively.  Take 1 is proud to be among the first service-providers to have received the security marks for both production and broadcast.DPP Committed to Security Broadcast and Production Shields


Video – why every business needs to consider video translation (not just broadcasters)

Research by Statista has confirmed that English is the most popular language online, representing 25.3 percent of worldwide internet users, but Chinese is not far behind with a 19.4 percent share.  Many companies recognise the importance of translating their written website content to capitalise on these international online markets.

But translating website text is not enough.  According to Cisco, by 2019 a whopping 80% of the world’s Internet traffic will be generated by video content.  With video becoming an important marketing tool and featuring on an increasing number of website pages, more companies will also need to translate video content as part of their website localisation.


XML – Why data is the future of video translation success

As explained in the data section of this listing, producing the post-production or as-broadcast script into XML data will convert the post-production script from a single-purpose document into the blueprint for the entire localisation process.    Liberty is the tool that Take 1 has developed to enable this. The Liberty metadata harvesting platform supports the production of XML-based post-production scripts and the repurposing of this data into the various documents and reports needed throughout the global content production workflow, within a secure and scalable environment.

Yiddish and Zulu – translating dialects  

Yiddish is the historical language of the Ashkenazi Jews and Zulu is the most widely spoken of South Africa’s eleven official languages. Yiddish developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic languages while Zulu is so similar to some other South African languages (like Xhosa) that they are mutually intelligible and only escaped being classified as dialects because of non-linguistic reasons.

The mixed heritage of both Yiddish and Zulu make them perfect examples of why translators need to have an intimate understanding of culture as well as linguistics to ensure that they translate sensitively and don’t inadvertently offend or alienate their audience.  When translating dialects or languages that have strong cultural associations, translators need to ensure that idioms, metaphors and localised references that don’t translate to different territories are replaced with local references.  For video translations this may include recommending that certain content be cut out or replaced.


Hopefully this A to Z list has helped explain a little about the intricacies of video translation – get in touch with Take 1 to find out more.