Subtitles Or Voiceover: The Great Debate

Voiceover & Multimedia25 January 20211.1k

Do you know your customers? I mean really know them?

If so, choosing between using subtitles and employing a voiceover artist will be easy, as you’re ideally placed to judge which option will give them the most satisfaction. However, if you’re not sure about which option is best, there are a number of factors worth considering.

It is about much more than just the bottom line, as subtitles are always going to be cheaper than voiceover work. Instead, the most important thing is to work out which option best suits your customers’ situation and the goals of their message.

Some key points to consider:


What markets are you planning to target? For example, if it is an underdeveloped country with low literacy rates, voiceover is generally advised, so that you are not relying on your audience to read and understand your message while at the same time also trying to take in the visual message. Similarly, some developed countries with high literacy rates will also respond better to voiced messages rather than subtitles, so it’s best to check with the experts beforehand to find out what the best-practice option is for your chosen market.

Are you looking for the highest impact?

Aside from creating custom made videos specific to each market which is obviously costly, it’s kind of a no brainer isn’t it? Here’s the scenario – you have a great new product and want to show it off to the world. You have a slick video with a lot of visuals and onscreen text effects. Do you think having a professional native language voiceover or having words all over the screen covering up the features of the product and getting all mixed up with the on-screen text will provide the most user engagement? While voiceover is of course quite a lot more expensive than subtitling, there is little point in spending vast sums of money creating an engaging marketing video if you are going to cut corners and dilute the impact in other markets. While subtitling certainly has many applications, it’s generally not ideal for high impact marketing videos.

Are people looking at the camera?

Subtitling and voiceover both work well in cases where a person is speaking directly into the camera. One style that is often used with on-screen subject (a talking head), is the ‘UN Style’. This is best described as having the original source language audio turned down low, yet still audible, with the new target studio track laid over the top – similar to an interpreter. This style is often used during news broadcasts due to the serious tone required. However, if retaining the emotion of the speaker’s words is important – such as when filming a health and safety announcement or a staff orientation video – subtitles are better, as they allow viewers to focus on the person speaking. Remember, retaining your customer’s attention is essential.

How much information is there to consider?

The customer is central to this process, so you need to consider if you are asking too much of them. If they are watching a tutorial or eLearning course on how to carry out a task, subtitles are likely to prove a distraction and leave your audience irritated. The last thing you want is for the message to be left in a blur of text or to have your ‘reader’ needing to keep going back to pick through everything on the screen while at the same time taking in the visuals. In this situation, a voiceover is the preferred option, as it frees up people to read the on-screen text or captions.

Watch out for text expansion!

Always consider text expansion during the development phase of your video. Whether you are planning to dub the video, or incorporate subtitles, text expansion can throw a serious spanner into the works later down the line. Note that most languages translated from English expand considerably. So often, marketing videos cause an issue if localization isn’t considered in advance. Marketing videos are generally fast moving and less than 2 minutes long; so there’s a lot of information to cram into such a short space. This invariably results in space issues later down the track which will ether mean the localization project either becomes non-viable or significant video editing needs to be done resulting in significant additional cost. So, one small tip other than to custom make videos for each market, is to create your source English video with a high-expansion language in mind, such as German. German expands by upward of 20%, so generally speaking, if your video will fit German, it will fit most other languages.  Note that it’s also usually easier to cut down the scenes in a video than it is to extend the same scenes.

Conduct full quality assurance

Whichever option you decide to take, final quality assurance is vital. You need to consider the best practice procedures in place with your localization provider. For voiceover projects EQHO uses three native professionals in the production of all audio projects, a practice which is designed to ensure no mistakes slip through. Similarly for subtitling projects, as well as working with native language subtitlers, all projects go through a full QA screening on-site at EQHO. Brands do not want to make blunders at this stage of the process, as it could tarnish the final product and reduce the effectiveness of the message.


EQHO provides a full suite of multimedia localization solutions, including translation, voiceover, subtitling and closed captions in over 65 languages. All projects are conducted in-house at our professional voice studios and multimedia lab. EQHO has voiced, dubbed and subtitled hundreds of videos for commercial, training, public and social awareness purposes. One such project involved providing translation and video dubbing for The Media Alliance for their ‘Redraw the Line’ campaign, promoting the issue of climate change in Southeast Asia. Their high-impact videos were voiceover dubbed by us into 4 languages; Thai, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Mandarin.


Are your translation solutions scalable?

As experts in Asian localization and translation services, with more 20 years of experience, EQHO is the ideal choice. To find out more about how localization can benefit your business, or to get started, contact us today.

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