Voiceover or Subtitles – how should video be translated?


When  it comes to localising video content, you have a choice of using either subtitles on screen or a voice-over of any dialogue or narration. The best option for your needs will depend on several factors, and of course budget is a consideration too.

Here we share advice from Alistair Langfield from our specialist voiceover & subtitling partner, Matinée.

There are two main methods of translating video:


  • A translation which the viewer reads on screen while the foreign language narrative or dialogue remains on the recording


  • Where a translated version of the audio is recorded in the target language and replaces the original recording

In terms of cost, subtitling is the least expensive method of video translation, but you should consider the method that is best for the audience as well as the price when you make your choice.

Voiceovers can cost considerably more, depending on the length of the video, and if more than one person is speaking in your video you’ll need additional voice talent to record each person involved.

Here are some of the main points to consider when deciding which method to opt for:

  • How much on-screen text or how many captions are there?
  • Are there any people talking directly to camera?
  • Is there a narrator / voice-over (someone speaking who is off screen)?
  • What languages(s) / market(s) are you translating the video for?

On-Screen Text/Captions

Adding subtitles to video that already contains a lot of on-screen text or captions is asking a lot of your audience, and may make for confusing viewing. Since the main point of using video online is to convey a message clearly and quickly, it’s probably best to avoid doing this.

You can also use a combination – of both, e.g. record a voiceover of any narration and provide subtitles for any audio where there is not text already on screen to distract the viewer. 

Speaking to Camera

When someone is facing the camera as they speak, then either subtitles or a voiceover usually work equally well.  One method of dubbing is to lower the volume of the speaker into the background and add the translated voice-over over the top so it acts as an interpreter, as is often done in news reports.  If you want to retain the voice of the speaker in your video, then it may be preferable to subtitle instead.


When your video doesn’t feature people on camera, such as a product demo, or animation with voice-over, then the option that makes the most sense is to dub the narration rather than subtitling.

In this instance, a translated voice-over is closer to the original and will deliver your message more succinctly – also the difference in cost between a voiceover and subtitles is minimal for any video of 10 minutes duration or less.

Languages/Countries you need translation for

Audiences in some countries have a distinct preference for voiceover instead of subtitles and vice versa.  Literacy levels can also come into play, as subtitles will be a waste of time if you are targeting countries where lots of people aren’t able to read. 

If you’re unsure about the best option for your project, talk it through with an expert. Giving you advice should be part of their quoting process and will carry no obligation.

Adapted from content originally published by Matinée.