The Difference Between Captioning, Subtitling, Voice-Over, and More

 Your definitive guide to video translation terminology

The coronavirus pandemic has had an enormous impact on the way we work. As a large portion of the population now works remotely, companies are examining new, innovative ways to connect with their multilingual employees and customers. Global businesses are increasingly embracing the use of multimedia tools—whether it’s to communicate critical messages internally, create eLearning modules or develop multilingual marketing campaigns.

When working with a Localization Service Provider (LSP) that specializes in video production and translation, it’s beneficial to know the relevant terminology so you can best articulate your needs. This primer will help you gain a better understanding of the vocabulary associated with the multimedia localization industry as Lionbridge experts highlight the most important concepts and explain their nuances.  

What’s the difference between closed captions and subtitles?

Subtitles are on-screen translations of dialogue meant to accompany the audio-track, whereas closed captions are a full transcription of the media audio-track, including dialogue, sound effects, music, etc.

Subtitles defined:

The rising popularity of streaming services like Netflix around the world has increased the demand for subtitles globally.

Quality subtitling requires the work of trained professionals that master both translation and the arts of subtitling to ensure the viewing experience is minimally affected by the presence of text on screen. 

Captioning defined:

Unlike subtitling, captioning does not denote translation. It is purely an audio transcription. Because it is geared towards those who are deaf or hard of hearing, captioning also includes sound effects, music, and designates who is speaking. Additionally, captioning is usually programmed after the content is released to a viewing outlet.

What’s the difference between closed and open captions? 

Open captions are programmed into the video and cannot be turned off, whereas closed captions are optional on-screen transcription that can be turned on or off by the viewer. 

According to the American with Disabilities Act, closed captions are mandatory for all public multimedia—including live news, commercials and more.

What’s the difference between transcription and captioning?

A transcription is a document cataloging all auditory content of a piece of media. Captioning, on the other hand, is on-screen notation of a multimedia audio-track that appears in real-time with the media. 

What’s the difference between voice-over and dubbing?

The key difference between dubbing and voice-over is that dubbing is a more involved, creative production. Voice-over is generally one voice narrating a direct translation of the script and overlays existing audio. Dubbing, on the other hand, replaces the audio, requires casting multiple voice actors and often involves matching the recorded audio with on-screen queues (i.e. lip-syncing).

Voice-over defined:

Voice-over (V/O) is a general term to refer to any audio recorded to narrate media. However, specifically in the world of localization, it implies a single voice actor reciting a translation. This type of voice-over is commonly referred to as a “UN-Style.” In contrast with dubbing, it prioritizes a precise translation of source content and the original audio can still be heard behind the recording.

Dubbing defined:

Dubbing is a highly involved, creative process. From the recording side, to produce a quality dubbing of a piece of media, a multimedia localization company must find the appropriate voice talent to replace the on-screen cast. In terms of the translation, dubbing requires more than a simple direct translation. Dubbing specialists often must tailor the translations to align with the physical movements of the actors on-screen.

What’s the difference between dubbing and lip-syncing?

Lip-syncing is often an element of the dubbing process, but it is not a requirement. In order to synchronize the recorded dubbing to the on-screen actors’ lips, lip-sync specialists must first translate the script with the visual cues in mind. Truly talented lip-sync creators can make the viewer forget that the media is dubbed. They are able to observe the on-screen actors’ mouth movements and then match the translation to produce similar sounds and mouth shapes.  

Now that you understand the terms associated with the multimedia localization industry, leverage multimedia technology to create meaningful connections with your global audiences.   

You might also be interested in How Global Businesses Harness Video Translation: What 5 types of videos should you outsource for language services?

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Janette Mandell
Janette Mandell