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Blog Entries
Audio-Visual Translations
Category: Subtitling
Tags: Audiovisual Subtitling

Audio-Visual Translations: On Subtitling Modes

Audiovisual Translation (AVT) ranges from dubbing and voice-over to surtitling and subtitling. In this blog article we present the main characteristics and features of each of the main AVT modes.


Subtitling involves the production of a written version appearing on the screen (usually at the bottom, although other locations are possible), representing the spoken dialogue or other linguistic elements that are part of the source text in films, television programs, presentations, etc.

There can be (1) intralingual subtitles (source and target texts in the same language, specially used for Subtitling for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing: SDH, and provided through “close-caption” devices) to follow the dialog, or for people who cannot understand the spoken dialog or who have accent recognition problems; or (2) interlingual subtitles (source text in one language and target text in another: language pair-specific), specially used in the production of subtitles for foreign-language films, TV series, etc.


Surtitling follows the same principles as subtitling, as it also involves the production of a written text which represents the spoken dialogue or other linguistic elements that are part of the voice text. Nevertheless, bearing in mind that surtitles (also known as supertitles) are mainly used with theatre performances, the main difference is that the target text is not presented on the bottom of the screen together with the source text, but on a screen (either projected or on a digital screen) above or to the side of the stage. Traditionally, surtitling was mainly used in opera performances, but nowadays it is becoming more common in theatre and music performances in general, public speeches and in several other situations (film festivals, corporate presentations, etc.) where it is not possible to introduce the subtitles overlapping the source text.

Surtitles are used either to translate the meaning of the lyrics into the audience's language, or to transcribe lyrics that may be difficult to understand in the spoken form. Surtitles are used in live productions in the same way as subtitles are used in movie and television productions.



Dubbing is a post-production process that involves replacing the source text soundtrack (voices heard on the screen) by those of different performers speaking another language, commonly used in filmmaking and video production, making sure that good synchronization and expressiveness lead viewers to believe the individuals on screen are actually speaking in the target language. It is the main translation mode in countries such as Spain, France, Italy or Germany.

The practice also involves the re-recording and synchronizing of audio segments with the existing footage.



Voice-over is a production technique that involves overlapping the source-text soundtrack with a target-language recording while lowering the sound of the source text to a minimum auditory level.

Here, the viewer thus has access to both the source and the target texts. This mode is mainly used in radio, television production, filmmaking and for documentaries and in works of fiction, the voice-over is often by a character reflecting back on his or her past, or by a person external to the story who usually has a more complete knowledge of the events in the film than the other characters.

This Mode is also used in Audio Description (AD), when additional narrative is inserted in films, TV programmes or theatre performances to describe actions, body language and other essential details in order to increase the comprehension and enjoyment of audiovisual contents for blind and visually impaired people.

In the Voice-Over mode, the translation is delivered in an approximately synchronous way: the original sound is lowered and the voices reading the translation are superimposed about a couple of seconds after the original one has started, and they usually finish at the same time. It provides a very realistic effect, and it is heavily scripted especially in genres such as the documentary.

The purpose of voice-over goes beyond simply descriptive; it also contextualizes, analyses and interprets images and events.


Live Subtitling and Audio-Visual Interpreting

Live subtitling might be used sometimes, for example, during news broadcastings, live presentations, meetings, interviews, etc. The problem here is that writing at the same speed as normal speech is almost impossible with a standard keyboard, even with the use of special software specifically designed for this purpose.

In such cases, it is common to use the Interpreting mode, i.e. the oral translation of an audiovisual product done by one speaker. This Interpreting mode can be simultaneous, consecutive or pre-recorded.

For a written extended version of this article, please refer to The Words Suitcase website:


The Words Suitcase

Translations · Localization · Technical Writing


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