What Is Audiovisual Translation and How Is It Done?

Chidinma Egwuogu
15 May 2023

12 min. read


In an age where digital content transcends geographical boundaries, audiovisual translation (AVT) seamlessly bridges cultures and languages.

AVT plays a critical role in today's globalized world, enabling people from different cultures and backgrounds to access the same media. But what is audiovisual translation, and how does it work?

In this article, we will explore the different types of AVT, the challenges faced by AVT professionals, and the benefits of partnering with an experienced AVT provider.

Pro tip: Use a professional AVT management system like Centus to streamline your audiovisual translation projects. Learn more.

Let's start with the basics.

What is audiovisual translation?

Audiovisual translation (AVT) is the adaptation of multimedia and audiovisual content from one language to another. It covers a range of media types including films, television programs, video games, and digital content.

What is audio-visual translation?

Characteristics of audiovisual translation

There are six main characteristics of audiovisual translation:

  1. Speech: Speech forms the backbone of audiovisual content. However, it's not just the words that make up the content. The tone, emotion, and nuance of the dialogue all combine to create an immersive experience. For instance, Korean has complex honorifics that might be lost in translation when converted to English.
  2. Changing source materials: AVT involves translating various genres like horror movies, children's shows, or advertisements, each possessing its own language, style, and conventions. Translators need to cater to different audiences, maintain the appropriate tone and mood, accurately translate cultural allusions, and adhere to material-specific regulations and guidelines.
  3. Multimedial nature: Audiovisual texts are multimodal as they combine several semiotic modes like images, sound effects, music, speech, writing, etc. Hence, the translator has to consider all these modes during the translation process.
  4. Multilingual elements: AVT involves the translation of source language elements like dialogues, on-screen text, songs, and sometimes even background noises or ambient sound.
  5. Synchronization: The translated text must fit the time and space constraints imposed by the original video. For example, in subtitling, the text needs to appear and disappear in sync with the audio.
  6. Variety of AVT modes: There are several types of AVT, each with its own characteristics and challenges. Some of the most common types include subtitling, dubbing, voice-over, subtitling, and audio description.
  7. Adaptation: AVT often requires more adaptation than other types of translation. The translator may need to make changes to the material to make it understandable and entertaining for a different cultural audience. This can include altering cultural allusions, comedy, and other context-specific aspects.

As you can see, an audiovisual translator's role isn't just limited to understanding the basic grammar and vocabulary of a language. They also need to be well-versed in the language's colloquial expressions and specialized terminology. This is especially important when translating content like films or TV series, where the audiovisual translator must skillfully render elements such as sarcasm, humor, and even potentially offensive language.

What are the types of audiovisual translation?

AVT contains a variety of sub-fields, each with its own unique methods and considerations. Here are some of the most common audiovisual translation types: types of audiovisual translation


Dubbing refers to the replacement of the original dialogue with its translation in the target language version. This is commonly used in films and TV shows and requires careful synchronization to match the translated speech with the character's lip movements. However, the dubbing process is resource-intensive and can lead to the loss of original language and performance nuances.

Countries like Spain and Italy have a long tradition of dubbing and a large cadre of dubbing actors.


Subtitles are textual representations of the dialogue appearing on-screen. It's a cost-effective method, preferred in countries with relatively high English proficiency but with diverse ethnic languages, like Nigeria. Subtitles can be either interlingual (translating the dialogue into a different language) or intralingual (the same language as the dialogue, often used for the hearing impaired audience).

Audio description

Audio description narrates the visual elements, helping visually impaired audiences enjoy the media. It's primarily used for individuals who are blind or have low vision. Regulations in countries like the USA mandate certain television programming to include audio descriptions.


Unlike dubbing, voice-over doesn't necessarily need to synchronize the verbal components with the character's lip movements. Instead, a voice artist reads the translated script and speaks over the original audio. It is commonly used in news reports, animation, or documentaries. This technique can conflict with the original audio, necessitating careful audio editing.


Captioning provides the text for all significant audio content, including sound effects and non-speech elements. It's crucial for hearing-impaired viewers and is comprised of open and closed captioning.


In respeaking, an audiovisual translator listens to the foreign language of a live program and simultaneously translates it. The oral translation can then be transcribed into subtitles with the help of subtitling software.

7 Stages of audiovisual translation

The steps of audiovisual translation might differ based on the kind of audio visual translation (e.g., subtitling, dubbing, or voice-over) and the workflow of the firm or professional delivering the translation services. A normal procedure may comprise the following stages: stages of audiovisual translation

Stage 1: Source material analysis

Understanding the context, characters, and overall tone of any material is crucial for effective translation into another language.

The challenge here is to grasp the cultural nuances and idiomatic expressions that may not have direct equivalents in the target language.

Stage 2: Research

Depending on the content, additional research might be necessary to understand specific cultural references, idioms, or technical jargon. In this stage, it’s best to collaborate with native language experts.

Failing to do this research can result in mistranslations, as seen in the infamous "All your base are belong to us" blunder in the video game "Zero Wing". To avoid similar blunders, learn more about video game localization here.

Stage 3: Transcription

This stage involves converting the audio content into written text. Transcribing dialogues verbatim, including colloquialisms and dialectical variations, can be challenging, but it is essential for maintaining the authenticity of the source material.

The translator must skillfully use their linguistic and cultural knowledge to render the dialogue, narration, and text while preserving the original's meaning and nuance. Translators should be mindful of maintaining the content's natural flow and ensuring that the translated content aligns with the cultural and linguistic norms of the target audience.

Stage 4: Translation

The process involves converting the transcribed text into the target language. The challenge lies in maintaining the pace, tone, and context of the original dialogue while ensuring that the translated text fits within the time constraints of the video.

Stage 5: Formatting

This stage involves modifying the translated script to meet the specific requirements of the type of AVT being used. For instance, in subtitling, each subtitle must fit within a certain character limit and must be readable in the timeframe it's displayed.

In dubbing, the script might need to be adapted to match the characters' lip movements. This stage often requires creativity and problem-solving skills, as the translator must balance the need for accuracy with this constraint.

If caution is not exercised, there's a possibility of unintentionally reducing complex elements to oversimplifications or excluding essential content.

Stage 6: Quality control and review

Review the translated content for accuracy, mixing errors, synchronization, and overall quality.

Machine translation and automated quality checks, while fast and cost-effective, can miss nuances and make errors, as was the case with Facebook's unfortunate mistranslation of Chinese President Xi Jinping's name to “Mr Sh–hole” in Burmese. You should have native readers edit the content to avoid such embarrassing errors.

Stage 7: Delivery

The delivery stage in the AVT process signifies the project's completion, where the final product is handed over to the client. The translated content is delivered in a format that aligns with the client's specifications, such as SRT or STL for subtitles or WAV or MP3 for a dubbed audio track.

In some cases, the translated content is directly incorporated into the video file, resulting in a finished video product. The delivery platform can vary based on the project's needs, ranging from direct uploads to video streaming services, cloud-based file-sharing platforms, or even physical delivery on a storage device for local broadcasts.

Advantages of audio visual translation

Audio visual translation (AVT) offers numerous advantages for businesses and creators. Here are some of the key benefits:

Accessibility for wider audiences

AVT opens up content to global audiences. It allows people who speak different languages to find and enjoy your audiovisual products. For example, Netflix reported a surge in global viewership for non-English shows like "Money Heist" and "Dark," thanks to effective AVT. Screenshot of Dark on Netflix Source: Netflix

Most importantly, AVT helps those with hearing impairments to understand and enjoy a wide range of media, from films and TV shows to online videos and video games.

Cultural exchange and understanding

AVT promotes cross-cultural understanding. Through translated movies, series, or documentaries, viewers can gain insights into the customs, traditions, and societal issues of other cultures, fostering global understanding, tolerance, and appreciation. sceenshot of subtitles in AVT Source: Unsplash

Support for language learning

AVT can aid in language learning. Research shows that subtitled videos can enhance vocabulary acquisition and listening comprehension. For this reason, educational institutions utilize foreign language content effectively, exposing students to a variety of perspectives. Furthermore, it aids language learners by providing context-rich, authentic material in the language they're learning. Image of boy learning through Audiovisual translation Source: Pexels

Improved marketability

Properly translated and localized content increases viewer engagement. Audiences are more likely to connect with and enjoy content when it's presented in their native language or when cultural nuances are effectively translated.

For instance, an advert produced in Spanish can be subtitled or dubbed into English, Mandarin, French, and numerous other languages, making it accessible and enjoyable to many more viewers worldwide. This not only increases the potential viewership but also the potential revenue. Picture of video adverts Source: Pexels

Providing translated subtitles can also improve search engine optimization (SEO), making content more discoverable to non-native language speakers.

Economic efficiency

Sometimes your marketing budget may not fit your globalization dream, and that’s okay. AVT enables producers to reach global audiences without excessive costs or delays.

Some AVT models, like subtitling, are often more cost-effective and faster than alternatives, like dubbing. Image of a recording session for audiovisual translation Source: Pexels

Subtitling requires fewer resources because it does not include significant studio recording with voice actors. Subtitling is also often faster, making it perfect for simultaneous launches in several areas.

However, your chosen AVT method should depend on various factors, including content nature, audience, and cultural preferences. Despite the higher cost and longer production time, some markets may prefer dubbed content.

Audiovisual translation challenges

AVT, especially in relation to localization, presents a unique set of challenges, which include:

1. Synchronization

This is an important feature of AVT, particularly in dubbing and subtitling. The visual and audio parts of the media must be fully aligned with translated text.

Dubbed speech, for example, must faithfully mimic character lip movements, whereas subtitles must correctly synchronize with spoken phrases and on-screen action. Achieving this detailed degree of synchronization may be a difficult and time-consuming operation that necessitates great attention to detail and a thorough comprehension of the content.

2. Budget and resources

Multimedia translation, especially dubbing, requires a lot of resources. Specifically, you need voice actors, sound engineers, and studio time.

Managing all these resources well, staying within budget, and still producing high-quality audiovisual works and products is a big challenge. Also, sometimes the technology and project management tools used in AVT can be hard to use or limiting, making the whole process even more complex.

To solve the problem of limited resources in AVT, it is important to manage projects efficiently and use resources wisely. One way to achieve this is by partnering with an experienced AVT management system with the necessary tools, technology, and skilled professionals to ensure high-quality results without exceeding budget and time limitations.

3. Colloquialism

Colloquialisms represent one of the key linguistic nuances that pose challenges in AVT. Slangs and informal words in the target audience’s language provide a unique flavor to any multimedia translation.

However, it is not easy to balance the use of colloquialisms with the precise translation of your source audiovisual document. What might be a common, easily understood phrase in one language could have no direct equivalent in another, making it difficult to convey the same tone, humor, or meaning in the multimedia translation.

The key to translating colloquialisms is a thorough cultural grasp of both the source and target languages, as well as creative adaptation rather than exact translation. Regular training and exposure to relevant cultures can also assist AVT specialists in providing accurate, relatable translations.

4. Legal considerations

You should adhere to copyright laws and ethical issues when translating audiovisual elements.

These legal considerations include honoring intellectual property rights, addressing content that may require cultural adaptation, obtaining necessary permissions for audiovisual translations, and content rating restrictions in different countries.

Ignoring such considerations can lead to serious consequences, including legal action, financial penalties, and damage to your company's reputation.

5. Cultural nuances

Culture plays a significant role in how people perceive and interpret content. This means that AVT professionals must have a deep understanding of both the source and target cultures. Translating humor, idioms, or cultural aspects can be especially challenging. Failing to localize these elements properly can lead to misunderstandings or even offense. Furthermore, certain content may need to be altered to fit the cultural norms or regulations of the target audience, which requires careful judgment to ensure that translation perfectly reflects the original content.

6. Audiovisual management software

Technological breakthroughs like Audiovisual Translation Management Systems (AVTMS) have substantially decreased the difficulty of audiovisual translation. Project management, coordination, and communication in AVT are now more effective and manageable thanks to these revolutionary tools.

Audiovisual Translation Management Systems offer numerous advantages, which range from project organization, streamlining communication among stakeholders, and generally improving the efficiency of the AVT process.

However, choosing a robust and effective ATMS can be a challenging task.

Therefore, you should look for these crucial features when selecting an AVTMS:

  • Intuitive user interface: Minimizes the learning curve for all users
  • Technical capabilities: Handles complex AVT tasks and manages different file formats
  • Glossaries and memory: Keeps direct translation consistent and accurate.
  • Easy synchronization: Facilitates synchronization of translated content
  • Compatibility/integration: Works seamlessly with other software or hardware in your workflow
  • Data security: Offers a high level of protection for sensitive project information
  • Cost-effectiveness: Affordable and scales when you scale.

Centus offers the perfect solution to these challenges, providing a comprehensive and user-friendly AVTMS tailored to meet the specific needs of AVT professionals.

Centus is designed to make AVT effortless, handling everything from different file types to perfect translation synchronization. Its user-friendly interface lets your team focus on translating, not on learning complicated software. It blends smoothly into your current workflow thanks to its compatibility with other systems. Plus, Centus takes data security seriously, safeguarding your sensitive project information with top-notch encryption. centus dashboard

Discover how Centus can elevate your AVT workflow and enhance your project management capabilities today. Learn more.

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