How to prepare scripts for dubbing/localization
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Here are a few tips on what to think of when preparing scripts for dubbing/localization projects. Different projects need different solutions but there's no meaning to overcomplicate things for very small projects while large projects can be a mess if the localization script is not done right.
For shorter videos that are to be dubbed into a language you can read (even if you don't understand it), a plain translation may be sufficient. Just make sure the translation is done word for word by a professional translator, as the timing of the translation must match the original.
For projects that require a more nuanced approach, a "copy translation" may be necessary to consider cultural differences between the source and target languages. For example, idioms, slang, and other figures of speech may not translate directly, so they may need to be adapted or replaced in the localized script.
For languages that you can't read, such as Japanese in my case, it can be challenging to know where you are in the script when editing the video for localization. To make this easier, divide the script into smaller sections and number them. Then, instruct the voice talent to read the number in English. This will allow you to easily copy and paste each section into the correct place in the video. It's often helpful to use a two-column format, with the source language in one column and the translation in the other, as this can make it easier to identify and resolve any issues
One helpful tip is to use translation services like Google Translate, which offer phonetic text for major languages like Japanese and Chinese. This can make it possible to edit the script even if you don't understand the language, as you can at least see and hear where you are in the script and the recorded audio file.
Here are a few examples of how to prepare a script for a dubbing/localization project.
Example "super easy". Use this for short scripts that are not time-sensitive. This example is from a video that will be localized into Japanese.
1 (Read the number in English)
完了するまでに約 5 分かかります。
Example "time-coded script for dubbing". Use this for dubbing projects or when the timing is critical. This example is from a Swedish film that will be dubbed into German.
When a text translation of good quality is available you can often use the text file as a script but check with the voice talent first.
00:00:09,840 --> 00:00:13,200
Wie der Körper funktioniert,
hat uns Menschen schon immer fasziniert.
00:00:13,200 --> 00:00:17,600
Neugierig haben wir das Skelett untersucht,
dem Herzschlag gelauscht,
Example "side-by-side translation". Use this for longer scripts that are not time-critical. This example is in English and will be dubbed into Amharic. Any mistakes made in the translation can this way also easily be corrected on the fly by the voice talent.
1. Hello and welcome to this tutorial! ሰላምን እንቋዕ ናብዚ ትምህርቲ ብሰላም ብደሓን መጻእኩም!
2. It will take 5 minutes to finish. ንኽውዳእ ኣስታት 5 ደቓይቕ ክወስድ እዩ።
To summarize, it's important to ensure that the voice artist can download your reference video and import it into their digital audio workstation. Avoid editing localization videos too tightly, as many languages are longer than English when translated. For example, Finnish is about 30% longer than English. In time-critical scenes, dubbing may require special, non-literal translations that take time into account. To ensure the best results, it's best to work with professional translators and maintain an open dialogue about your project and its target audience. While professional translations and well-prepared scripts may not be inexpensive, they will save you time and money in the long run.
Read more about how to handle multi-lingual projects here.