It’s more than likely that, at some point in your life, you’ve come across the term ‘dubbing’ in relation to media entertainment; maybe you have encountered the term when visiting a foreign country, while late-night clicking through channels in a time before streaming. You may have also potentially seen the terms ‘voice-over’, ‘media localization’, and ‘multilingual content’. All of these things, when boiled down, are versions of audio production. Why are there so many different synonyms for this seemingly simple and straight-forward process of recording audio? Does the entertainment world just want to confuse and annoy audiences? Actually, just the opposite! When the need for this service arose over a century ago, the audio experts of the time had no idea how the innovators of the industry would revolutionize foreign language voice-over and dubbing, making content, and its entire meaning, accessible to global audiences.
Dubbing services are part of the post-production process in which complimentary audio is recorded, added, and mixed into the original production audio. The most pervasive use of professional dubbing is a form of audio translation, used in film and television, with the goal of replacing the dialogue in one language (the source language), with another (target) language. For example, if an Italian television channel wanted to broadcast a movie that was originally recorded in English, they would likely recruit the help of a dubbing studio to convert that English dialogue into Italian (dubbing translation or multilingual dubbing) so that their audiences could enjoy and engage with it. Dubbing can be used to produce multilingual content and multilingual audio, making a particular piece of work more widely accessible in the current, progressively global and multilingual society. This accessibility has become increasingly important to filmmakers and creatives, but also to business people in various other entrepreneurial fields. By extending the global reach of a specific message, product, or concept, people from around the world will have the chance to interact and engage with it in a meaningful way. In the same vein as ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity’, no harm can come from having more eyes (and perspectives) on your work or product!
That covers dubbing…but what about the other terms? What happens if the idea being expressed in a piece of content doesn’t have an equivalent in every culture? Though dubbing is used to replace one language with another, it doesn’t account for any cultural implications. People of different cultural backgrounds could be confused or, in the worst case, could misunderstand the message and be insulted. For the same reason learning a new language is challenging due to a difficulty in grasping basic slang and colloquialisms, audio may need to go through a process called language localization or media translation. Also sometimes referred to as cultural adaptation, localization is the process of adapting a piece of content to account for cultural differences. For example, if a piece of content explores the nuances of tipping, this may cause confusion in audiences whose culture does not include tipping as part of the social etiquette. While this specific example might not cause any real issues, as most non-tipping countries are familiar with the concept, there are other instances in which the reaction might be more than just confusion. For example, in America, the thumbs-up indicates agreement or something positive and generally non-offensive. However, head to Iran and give a thumbs up, you might receive a strange response. Unbeknownst to you, you’ve just given the equivalent of a middle finger! To remedy this, the help of a localization agency or media localization companies is often useful, where a service provider can facilitate the process of multimedia adaptation (or multimedia localization) by offering media localization services in a localization studio. The need for this particular type of service highlights the importance of global localization and cultural adaptation to ensure whatever message is being conveyed is conveyed properly, all while preserving its original meaning.
Voice-over services and voice-over dubbing are the broad categories under which all of this falls. Voice-over simply means a piece of audio that is not accompanied by an image of the speaker. This could mean anything from narration, radio advertisements, off-screen dialogue, to replacement dialogue. Foreign language dubbing or voice-over translation services are examples of a voice-over that aims to replace the dialogue in one language with another. Audio localization or voice-over localization is an example of voice-overs being used to replace the original recording by culturally adapting it. Based on the many uses of professional dubbing and its lengthy history, it is clear that the reason for so many different synonyms for the term is a result of the human need to connect and, in connecting, be understood. Thanks to the innovative audio experts of the past, there are now many audio-specific fixes to help make content globally accessible to many different people, from around the world, from different backgrounds, with varied experiences.