Scholarly article on topic 'Translating Video: Obstacles and Challenges'

Translating Video: Obstacles and Challenges Academic research paper on "Materials engineering"

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{"TV serials" / voice-over / subtitles / dubbing / "number of symbols" / tongue-twisters}

Abstract of research paper on Materials engineering, author of scientific article — Mikhail A. Zagot, Vladimir V. Vozdvizhensky

Abstract New challenges for translators of TV serials and movies are caused by extended information flow reaching the viewer at the same time in different modes. As a result a translator faces more restrictions, and translation becomes more terse and speedy. We look into different types of translation from the screen: voice-over, subtitling, dubbing - and check on new objective problems and solutions for translators.

Academic research paper on topic "Translating Video: Obstacles and Challenges"


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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 154 (2014) 268 - 271


CULTURE, 20-22 October 2014

Translating Video: Obstacles and Challenges

Mikhail A. Zagota, Vladimir V. Vozdvizhenskyb*

aMoscow State Linguistic University, 38, Ostozhenka street, Moscow, 119034, Russia bNational Research Tomsk State University, 36, Lenin Ave., Tomsk, 634050, Russia


New challenges for translators of TV serials and movies are caused by extended information flow reaching the viewer at the same time in different modes. As a result a translator faces more restrictions, and translation becomes more terse and speedy. We look into different types of translation from the screen: voice-over, subtitling, dubbing - and check on new objective problems and solutions for translators.

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of National Research Tomsk State University. Keywords: TV serials; voice-over; subtitles; dubbing; number of symbols; tongue-twisters

1. Introduction

The topic considered in this paper is not new, on the one hand, but not thoroughly analyzed on the other. Usually it is approached in relation to translation mistakes made by translators of movies or TV serials. This is really something very familiar, and there was a big translation scandal in the long forgotten 90's: an expression "you are fired" was translated for some strange reason as "ty sgorel" (you were burnt down), although any English school six-grader knows that it means "ty uvolen" (you are fired). Obviously, mistakes of the kind are numerous and should be explained by translators' ignorance in the first place. Movies and TV serials are often translated by young translators or even amateurs for a very simple reason: a customer does not want to pay decently for the job. As a result the quality of translation is dramatically decreased, and nothing much is likely to change in this regard in the near future. But, in this paper we try to view some troubles, namely, things of a more or less objective nature, which make translation and interpretation of voices from the screen ever more difficult.

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +7-3822-529-695; fax: +7-3822-529-742. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Peer-review under responsibility of National Research Tomsk State University. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.10.149

This specific type of translation is more demanding and restrictive compared with regular translation, where one is limited only by language standards. Imagery should be helpful, and, to our mind, images provide one with very good support when studying a foreign language. But, are images and pictures so good for translation and translators? Additional semantic components may be very much in the way of good translation. The translators actively involved in movies' simultaneous interpretation were often confronted with a problem of "notes" on a screen during a dialogue, as they were expected to deliver both texts: oral and written at the same time. But today the "note" has significantly grown in size. A person watches a movie or a TV program as a viewer, listener, and reader at the same time, consuming information through different channels and being unable to control its speed. Information demand is too great to pass it through one channel only, and news programs often present us with more than one screen plus a running line below, all channels delivering different sets of news. Conditions for translating such news are obviously more complicated (Gorshkova, 2006). This paper focuses on finding ways to make adequate translation of materials delivered to a viewer through different channels on the screen.

2. Obstacles and mistakes in the process of translation

Russian TV screens are filled with numerous western serials, including cartoons and ones for kids with their own special world and extra linguistic and visual cognitive structure. The interpreters have to be extremely creative and mindful when translating such serials to restore the world of fantasy in a different language in an entertaining, understandable and accessible way. Unfortunately, the resulting texts are often incomprehensible, and some blunders make people think that texts were translated by machine, and to crown it all, such texts are delivered by actors speedily and chaotically. What we get in the end is a complete failure. So additional outside restrictions, polysemantic nature of translated material, and information of different type in different volume through different channels constitute multiple challenges for the translator. In order to solve the problem of appropriateness in translation we should distinguish some types of translation from the screen a translator has to deal with.

First of all, it is a voice-over translation, in recent past a version of simultaneous interpretation. Through the end of the last century it helped viewers become acquainted with foreign movies. On the one hand, it was a respectable and even elite type of activity, but on the other it was clear that the interpretation was made under primitive conditions with minimal preparation - an interpreter watched a movie in the quiet of his booth and translated it off the cuff. Such was translation at the international film festivals in Moscow, Tashkent and other towns and later with technological development on video cassettes, which method produced its own virtuosos in the translation community. This particular type of interpretation brought forth legends of translating movies from a language an interpreter did not know but still succeeded. Some of such legends are quite close to the truth. Presently, translation of this type has lost its romantic flavor - because today there is no longer the need to translate movies on the go, as there are dialogue lists, movies may be seen beforehand on DVD or even online, which allows an interpreter to be more professional and better prepared for the job. As to serials and other similar productions, a translator no longer does it orally but prepares a written text, since nowadays, sound recording is done far more often by actors rather than interpreters. In the recent past a written translator was not particularly limited in this regard; he was expected to translate a text properly and that was that. Today this is no longer the case: a translator has to cut the text since movie episodes change very fast, "clip" editing is in fashion, information delivery is speedy. A translator has no choice but to cut his translation, otherwise actors would not be able to pronounce the text; their remarks would collide and make the whole performance quite chaotic. For example, while translating a popular TV serial MIAMI VICE for NTV, the text abundance made it impossible for actors to pronounce it properly. If a translator failed to cope with the situation, actors were doomed to incomprehensible sputtering. But a translator has to cut the text carefully to avoid losses of artistic nature, because cinema is art after all. Hence, it is necessary to look for a golden medium and assess translation adequacy by different standards because the translation sounds from the screen. Another example of textual overburden is the super popular serial, SEX AND THE CITY. There were many obstacle to translation, and we are deeply convinced that the serial would have been better without so much text. Witty and brilliant dialogues are hard to grasp even in the original, and a translated version made losses even heavier. It happened not because the translators did not know the language well, but a viewer just couldn't catch everything at such a rapid speed of delivery.

The second variant of screen translation is subtitles. Limitations here are obvious: number of lines and symbols is limited by norms of reading, by depicting subtitles on the screen and by speed of changing episodes. All of it reduces the time and space for translation. Number of symbols in a line should not exceed 32, and no more than three lines are permitted in one subtitle. But subtitle writers are not always careful about viewers' ability to read them. The subtitle text should cover at least 70 percent of what is said on the screen, but now even 70 percent is too much -because editing is ragged, the picture switches all too quickly and contains extra cognitive components, definitely complicating life of a simultaneous interpreter who translates a movie with subtitles (Dries, 1995). This kind of interpretation is still on demand during film festivals: a Dutch movie is equipped with English subtitles, but often they are fleeting with such speed that a viewer can't even read them, let alone interpret. If the job of a translator is to prepare subtitles in Russian, it is necessary to shrink the text, sparing the author's idea but at the same time providing a viewer with necessary comfort. Special subtitle machines have been recently invented and subtitles are translated into Russian and fed into a computer, which is connected with a special device, a narrow horizontal tableau right under the screen. But, there are still the problems of comprehending subtitles. Also in the bargain, subtitled movies are presently watched on small devices like smartphones, which causes extra limitations because subtitles are to be made shorter, narrowing the cognitive component and shortening the translation length (Dries, 1995).

The third case is dubbing kids' serials, animation and computer games which makes a lot of trouble for translation. Here a translator is involved in an artificial world filled with some games, imitations, allusions, tongue-twisters, individual features, jokes, puns. As a result a translator is limited even more and should delve into the material, otherwise he is in for a disaster. Such serials are often translated by students or mere enthusiasts. Sometimes these "translators" invent their own plot, "localizing" the original, and often the result can't be called a translation. The job should be done by professionals, not amateurs, but then it should be paid decently.

The last case is full-scale dubbing, so-called lip-sync. A translator matches a translated text to lip movement, adjusts the text for a viewer to forget that the movie is in a foreign language. Obviously, it is impossible to forget it, and in this case a translator loses the original soundtrack and original voices of actors, and the whole artistic idea suffers. Strictly speaking, lip matching is not the job for a translator, there should be a special person responsible for it, but sometimes a translator has to consider the requirement, too. In the old times dubbing was a special kind of trade. A film was cut into "rings", a ring was fed into a projector and repeated as many times as was necessary under the guidance of a dubbing director to achieve a satisfactory result (Krasovska, 2004). It should be mentioned that movie translation for serious distribution is usually done very thoroughly, without translators' blunders or actors' misinterpretations, the job is done with good quality at all levels. But high speed and several channels of information complicate the translator's work to the utmost. A fresh example is Sherlock Holmes' series recently shown on TV. The hero is very active: he talks quickly, sends SMS, reads a text from his smartphone, a viewer sees on the screen some thoughts flashing in his head, and a translator has to grasp all of it, and to translate it in a proper way.

3. Conclusion

In this paper, we tried to overview different obstacles an interpreter meets while translating film and video materials. We distinguished such difficulties as the abundance of text in films, which complicates the translating process, problems with the length of subtitles, sophistication of fantasy world in cartoons and the point of lip matching while dubbing a film. In order to avoid losses of artistic nature in case of textual overburden a translator has to cut the text carefully, and assess and adjust for translation adequacy. If a translator has to prepare subtitles, it is necessary to shorten the text, while retaining the author's idea. Viewers should be afforded the necessary comfort for text perception. While translating films filled with imaginary heroes and elements, a translator should pay attention to socio-cultural peculiarities of the audience he is interpreting for, to make the text more understandable and acceptable. Finally, in the process of full-scale dubbing a translator should be assisted by specialists to help him in the process of lip matching.

New conditions put forward new demands to translation, and translating from the screen is an integral part of a modern translation culture, with its specifics and additional restrictions. Voice from the screen should be translated with a new approach.


Dries, J. (1995). Dubbing and Subtitling: Guidelines for Production and Distribution. Dusseldorf: European Institute for the Media. Gorshkova, V. (2006). Perevod v Kino. Irkutsk: IGLU.

Krasovska, D. (2004). Simultaneous use of voice-over and subtitles for bilingual audience. Translating Today, 1, 25 - 27.