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May 7, 2020 |

Voice Over vs Subtitles – Which Is Better in e-Learning Localization? 

Planning to localize your online courses, but don’t know what to opt for between subtitling and dubbing? That’s because it’s never an easy answer. And if you’re doing e-learning localization for multiple courses, you may even need both voice-over and subtitles to meet the expectations of your learners. 

In this niche, you can’t deliver high-quality e-learning products with a one-size-fits-all recipe. It’s more about the type of online lessons that you want to translate and the preferences of your target audience. What matters is to deliver an online course that people are comfortable using to make the most of your localization efforts. 

Below, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of voice over and subtitles and when to use them for your e-learning localization project. But first, let’s recap what subtitles and voice-over are and how they influence the quality of e-learning content. 

The Differences Between Voice Over and Subtitles

As you know, the audio component is essential for the success of any online course. It can either create a friendly learning environment or ruin the atmosphere and distract learners. When you do e-learning localization, you want all your audiences to benefit from the same impeccable sound, regardless of the language they prefer for studying. 

When translating and localizing online courses, you have two options for the audio content: subtitling and dubbing. 

Working with subtitles means that the translation is placed at the bottom of the screen as a text. When the narrator talks or during dialogue, every line is automatically written in the target language. The viewers can still hear the original voices and read the translation at the same time to facilitate understanding. 

On the other hand, for dubbing, you’ll need one or more voice-overs. In this case, voice-over artists (or voice actors) create audio tracks in the target languages. As a result, your foreign learners don’t hear the original voices of the narrators and actors, but only the translated version of your audio content. 

The Pros and Cons of Voice-Over in e-Learning

Before analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of using voice-overs, you should know that, in e-learning localization, lip-synching (dubbing) should be the top choice. 

It means you’ll have to replace the on-screen speaker’s voice with the voice of another actor, who transmits the same information in the target language. This way, spoken words appear synchronized with the way the on-screen speaker’s lips move.

In the industry, experts use two more types of voice-overs, but they’re less suitable for e-learning: 

  • Off-camera narration–to be used for online classes where the narrator doesn’t appear, so the voice-over speaks over images. 
  • UN-style narration. In this scenario, the learner hears both the original speaker at low volume and a narrator reading the translation in the target language. It’s rarely used in e-learning because it can create confusion and slow down the learning process.  

When done right, dubbing gives e-learning courses that personable and friendly tone that makes the course sound professional. Learners can focus on content without being distracted by the additional text. Moreover, when people get instructions in their native languages, they’re more likely to understand what they’re told and remember the new information better. 

What Can Go Wrong

Voice-overs are excellent for e-learning localization only as long as you can afford high-quality services. First, you should find the right voices for your online courses. If your voice-over artist sounds like a salesman, you’ll get a cold narrative and your learners might have difficulties following the information you share. 

The secret is to ask for samples before hiring professional voice-overs. This way, you can choose the best voices for your online class right from the start and save time and money. 

You also want to work with a team that can master all the technical details. As languages rarely use the same number of words to express concepts, the script can expand, and voice-overs are required to speak too quickly to respect the original timing. 

To avoid it, linguists have to translate the content so that it fits in the same time frames as in the original video. This way, you create the illusion that the on-screen teachers or actors speak the target language. Then, the quality of the translated version should match the original recordings to generate the same perfect mix of music and voices.   

As a result, voice-over recording is more expensive than subtitling and requires more time to complete. That’s because it involves working with translators, voice artists, audio and video editors, among other specialists.  

The Pros and Cons of Subtitles in e-Learning

Subtitling has advantages that are hard to ignore. First, you can maintain the original voices, as well as the tone and styles of your content. No matter how talented the voice artists are, no one can completely substitute the original teacher. 

Other benefits of using subtitles are regarding the faster turnarounds and lower localization costs than working with voice overs. That’s because subtitles require fewer people and less technical knowledge to produce than dubbing.

Last but not least, with subtitles, it’s easier to add more languages in the future and reduce localization costs even more in the long run. Basically, subtitles are a cost-effective solution to having your online course available in multiple languages in a relatively short period. 

When You Shouldn’t Use Subtitles

The disadvantages of using subtitles are mostly visible in two particular cases. The first scenario refers to having large amounts of text in your visual content. In this situation, adding the subtitles breaks the image: text ratio, which can distract learners–or, at least, make it hard for them to read everything and remember what they’ve learned. 

Also, it’s possible to end with the same information written twice, making it even more difficult for people to keep up with the lesson. 

In the second case, subtitles are a poor choice when the target audience doesn’t feel comfortable with receiving content in this form. In countries like Germany or Italy, for example, dubbing is the norm in cinema and television. So, people haven’t developed the automatic reading behavior necessary to follow the subtitles and learn at the same time. For many of them, it’s an inconvenience that could slow down the learning process significantly. 

Which Solution Works for You?

It depends on your audience and your budget. If your target public is used to subtitles and you want to reduce costs, you can easily choose subtitles.

However, if your public has difficulties with reading and listening at the same time, you should try to find voice-over solutions to make sure you deliver a product that your audience is comfortable using.