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Foreign language video production

So now you’ve got your English video completed, what next?

If you have foreign customers to sell to, or foreign workforces you have to train, then the next stage is to produce a foreign language version of your original English video.

This can cost anything between a few hundred pounds for the cheapest translation of a single video

– all the way to a couple of thousand pounds for a full localization of long video, or series of short videos.

Why the big difference in cost? And what do you get extra when you spend more?


The big choices

Broadly there are two types of foreign language video:

1: Caption-only videos where the English voice is still heard, with foreignspeak subcaptions underneath. Subcaptions are also called subtitles.

2: Fully-localized videos where the English voice is replaced with a Foreignspeak voiceover, and all existing video English captions are replaced with foreignspeak captions. All animated captions & graphics, and live camera interviews, are also produced in foreignspeak.

Since there is such a big price difference between your two choices, we need to look at the relative advantages of each, ie, compare caption-only with full localization.


Caption-only video – pros & cons

The two big advantages of caption-only videos are cost and speed.

Caption-only is less than half the price, and can be completed 50% faster.

Over a series of 2-12 videos this cost saving is substantial compared to full localization.

The problem is that you’re asking the audience to read the bottom of the screen continuously, instead of looking at the images onscreen that you spent so much time & money producing.


Full localization – pros & cons

A fully localized video looks & sounds like it was originally made in the foreign language.

In other words, it looks as good as the English version, and not like a hand-me-down version. What could be better?!

The downside is that foreignspeak production costs double or triple compared to a caption-only version.

If you have, say, 6 videos to translate then this pushes up the cost significantly.


How to choose between captions and full localization

Because the price difference is so high, it’s a tough call.

Here are a series of questions to ask, so you can calculate your best option:

1: Can your audience read? Not all training video audiences are good readers. You need to know whether this applies or not.

2: Are the onscreen visuals important? If the audience are busy reading the bottom line they won’t see a fraction of what’s above onscreen. Decide if reading will detract from the video’s visual impact significantly? Reading adds another layer of demand on your audience.

3: If you’re videos are sales videos or for promotion, then it’d be crazy not to make your English video look perfect as a foreign video. A German Chancellor once said: “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. And if you’re selling to me, then you must speak my language.” This is the way of the world. Speaking in the wrong language doesn’t make a good impression. In some marketplaces it can be like saying you’re “not here to stay”.

4: If your videos are training videos, then it’s likely they’ll be long – 5-15 minutes – compared to a sales video, which is normally 2-4 minutes. So it’s very tempting to to go captions-only, if only for cost reasons with a suite of safety videos.

5: How much is the video attitude-shaping? When a video is intended as a powerful motivation tool, and not simply a recipe for doing things right or ensuring legal compliance, then localization has to be best. For example if it’s critical for your foreign workforce to radically change their attitudes to safety, change their culture – or – if your sales videos involves new ways of thinking that require the client to make a leap of faith when buying your product or solution, then localization matters.

6: Do you have hearing-impaired audiences? Or are they viewing in a noisy area where it’s hard to hear every word? They’ll need sub captions.

7: What about the charm of voiceover? Voiceovers add charm and persuasion in the way they speak. Is this charm essential? If not, use subtitles.

8: Facebook viewers prefer subtitles as they often view with audio off. People are expecting to see Facebook videos with titles, so if your target audience is on Facebook, then subtitles are a must, or at least a version of your video with subtitles.

9: Is the audience used to subtitles? It takes skill to fluently read subtitles and not lose the plot. So if your audience are accustomed to subtitles and skilled at reading and viewing, then caption-only may be an acceptable solution.

10: YouTube audiences accept subtitles more easily than a viewer on your company website. Using closed captions will actually increase your video’s SEO power.


Foreign language video production – avoiding trouble

Whichever you choose, captions or localization, there are a few rules you must observe as you’re taking English, which you know inside out, and converting it to a language you may know very little of. This is fraught with risk.

For example, I knew of one Chinese video where the “fire station” was translated as the “house on fire!” Other languages are equally full of conditions, idioms and subtleties you may not be aware of.

In another video example, it was ambiguous whether “the waste oil should be poured into the river” or not. Eek!

Foreignspeak corporate video translation is often riddled with errors that come from the translation process. And no one knows it’s wrong because “it’s all foreign anyhow”.

And these errors can be compounded by your video editor trying to work with an inadequately translated script for a sequence of complex motion designs, especially with non-English alphabets, like Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and the 25 other languages that read from right to left (RTL).

Ideographic languages, like Japanese, Korean and Chinese are normally left to right but occasionally RTL.

It’s also important for you to know that if a mistake is made, and the foreign voiceover artist has to be called back in to make an additional recording to fix it, you may well be charged a full session for just a small amount of extra voiceover.

You can avoid all such problems with this 3 stage process:

1: Get your script translated by a reputable agency, or someone you trust to get it right – this might be your local office or agent in the country. Email them the storyboard and a link to the mp4 English video, so they can view the wider picture, as many translation agencies employ temp students with little real world experience.

2: Get the translation checked by a local person or specialist who understands the lingo of your proposition and industry sector, and can recognize unwanted ambiguities.

3: Get a friendly customer to check the script as well. Skype or Hangouts make this possible. Perhaps also get your foreign lawyer to check if there are any potential legal consequences vis a vis local customs & practices.

The simplest solution is to ask your foreign language video production company to demonstrate to you their time-proven documented production process for producing accurate foreign language videos & offline DVDs.

Once you’re satisfied with the exact methodology, you can sleep easy.



The big decision is whether to go subcaptions or full localization, because of the large cost difference, especially when considered over a series of video modules. The same applies to online eLearning modules with video included.

Subcaption videos are also much quicker to produce if you’re in a hurry.

I hope there are enough pointers here to help you make a more considered decision when it comes to your choice of foreign language video production style.

1 Comment

  1. Ed Manrique on 16th August 2019 at 6:10 pm

    Hi. I´m a video producer. I have done a 1:45 video in English and I need the French version for my client. Please send me a quote ASAP including: translation and french VO (native). I don’t need subtitles. this is the video I can send HD video file. I need a quote ASAP please. thanks.

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