Multilingual Voice-Over – A New Career?

By Douglas Swenson, A/V Manager at The Geo Group.


Foreign language voice-over talent may not be the career you dreamed of, but it has the potential to be a good source of income for professional linguists. Native speakers are sought out to record foreign voice-overs for all types of audio and video projects that will eventually make their way from corporate American headquarters to their overseas facilities and audiences. Safety videos, presidential addresses, marketing videos, training webinars—these types of programs not only need translation, but they require individuals to read and record the scripts in their native language so that the videos can be understood around the world.

So, what is a voice-over? Often called a “dub,” a voice-over is a disembodied voice that narrates corporate videos, documentaries, radio and TV commercials, and other live or pre-recorded programs.

As the Audio/Video manager at The Geo Group, my job is to cast and record the talent for foreign language video dubbing.  When I begin the search for talent to record foreign language projects, my first call is to industry professionals. Interpreters typically make good voice talent because they use their voices daily and have an acute awareness of how to effectively communicate a story. Individuals with broadcasting experience or a theatrical background often make great foreign language talent. Qualities I look for in voice talent include clear enunciation, a “standard” accent in the target language, the ability to be directed, and most importantly, good reading skills to be able to deliver a fluid “read” without error or with only a few errors. Studio time is expensive, and a “one-take” talent will be called again and again for future assignments.

In the U.S., the demand for foreign language voice talent is great. While translation projects for printed materials can be sent to freelancers around the world, the recording process is more hands-on and is more cost-effective when done closer to home. Professional voice talent from other countries—those who make a living as voice recording artists—are most likely living and working in their home country. On the other hand, linguists working in the U.S., while not having professional voice experience, will be sought after for this type of work. While the volume of projects cannot be guaranteed, the occasional voice-over project can provide a welcomed supplemental income.

The voice-over process for creating foreign versions of English programs is standard.  In order for clients to select the appropriate voice for their project, the talent must record a voice “demo.” A demo is a recorded sample of your voice, typically thirty seconds to one minute in length, that can be sent to the agency electronically in an MP3 format. The client chooses the talent for the project based on the samples submitted by the agency. Once the voice is chosen for the project, the talent is scheduled into the studio to record the translated project.

The English audio track is used as a guide for the length of the foreign language audio. If an English video project is 15 minutes in length, the foreign language dub must also be 15 minutes long. As the talent reads the translated script, he/she is listening to the actual English audio at the same time. This process ensures that the timing—the rate of speaking—matches the English audio. Once the foreign language track is recorded, the English audio can be removed entirely or mixed “U.N.-style,” keeping the English audio in the background for clarity.

Unlike translation projects for printed materials, video script translations require concise verbiage and cannot grow in length during the translation process. If the translations are longer than the English script, the foreign language voice talent will need to speak at an unusually fast pace in order to keep up with the English audio. Sometimes, a quick edit of the translation is required during the recording session. The need for concise translations calls for translators who specialize in script translation.

Remotely recorded sessions are an industry necessity, so if you are an exceptional voice talent but you happen to live in the Saskatchewan backwaters, you can still be hired to record projects. Find an up-to-date recording studio with a knowledgeable engineer and a phone patch (allowing the client or agency to direct the session remotely), and you will be able to record the project and electronically deliver the audio to the client or agency.

Consider voice-over work if you are a native speaker of the target language, you have a pleasant speaking voice, and you have a standard accent. The only catch—and a long-standing debate is—what constitutes a “standard” accent?

To hear a sample of a voice-over recording, please visit our Voice-Over service section. If you scroll down to the Listen to Voices section, you will see that you can select a gender, choose a language from the drop down menu, and click on Find a Voice. Once you do, a few names will appear, if samples are available. These are names of voice-over talent The Geo Group has used in the past for that selected language. If you click on one of the names, a sample recording will begin to play.

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