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Voice overs, subtitles or captions – which is the best approach for video translation?

When you are translating video content, one of the first decisions you need to make is how to deliver new languages to your audience. There are three approaches to choose from: voice overs, subtitles and closed captions – each of which comes with their own strengths and weakness that you should be aware of before making this decision.

In today’s world where (poorly) translated subtitles are only a click away on platforms like YouTube, it is easy to underestimate the importance of choosing the right video translation method. In this article, you will find out why this is not a decision to take lightly and we will help you make the right choice, depending on the specific needs of your project.


What are voice overs, subtitles and captions?

Before we get into the pros and cons, let’s quickly explain these three approaches to video translation because subtitles and captions appear very similar at a first glance.

Generally speaking, subtitles simply aim to replicate the words being spoken at any given time, as well as any text that your audience needs to understand. While closed captions also provide descriptions of audio that is important to the end viewer – for example, when a phone rings or thunder sounds in the background of a film.


Which video translation method should you use?

Choosing the right video translation method depends on three key things: who your audience is, the kind of content you are producing and the technical limitations of each approach – all of which we will explain in this section. First, let’s start with the pros and cons of each approach:

Voice over pros:

Voice over cons:

Subtitle pros:

Subtitle cons:

Closed captions pros:

Closed captions cons:

If your video is filled with important visual elements that viewers need to pay attention to, such as artwork, graphs, landscape scenery or expensive graphics, then it does not make sense to distract their attention away from your content with subtitles. Likewise, if you are translating an intense debate, group interview or anything else that involves multiple speakers interrupting and talking over each other, it is going to be very difficult to keep up with subtitles and your viewers are likely to get confused about which subtitle string is from which speaker.

On the other hand, if you are translating a film with meticulously crafted characters and carefully selected actors, you probably want to maintain this through your translations. Subtitles are a great option in these situations and this why they are so widely used for translating cinema. Another scenario where subtitles might be the preferred choice is interviews or comments from people as it is important their true emotions shine through – for example, accounts from war veterans or people recounting natural disasters.

Closed captions are important in terms of accessibility and you should always consider providing these as an option – not only for hard of hearing audiences, but also for people in situations where they cannot or choose not to watch your video with audio.


Video translation is all about getting the best audio and visual experience across to viewers in different languages and this requires a different approach, depending on the kind of content you are working with. It’s not that voice overs are better or worse than subtitles or captions. Instead, it’s a case of choosing the best way to deliver your message on a case by case basis.

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