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We periodically get this request from agencies asking for foreign language Video Translation and it’s never an easy sell. What do you do when you get a few hours of foreign language footage that you need to cut into a few minute video, and your editor does not speak the language? Video translation of hours of footage is expensive. But there are ways to make it more expensive than it has to be. And there are tactics you can use to make it more easy on your client’s budget.

Why Video Translation is expensive

I don’t like to use the word expensive, because it makes it appear like the service is not worth the cost. However, the amount of effort required to turn several hours of foreign language footage into a few minute video by a non-native editor almost always is grossly underestimated. So, it’s easy to empathize with the suggestion that it is expensive. To translate footage from a foreign language into English, you need a transcript with time codes, translation of the script and then you need the editor to use the translated script along with the foreign language video. To make the editing job even easier, ideally you’d like to see the transcript on screen in the form of subtitles so that you always have access to the translation. This means that the scope of this type of work is similar to the workflow used for professional subtitling services, but instead of subtitling a few minutes, we are subtitling a few hours of footage.

Transcription is only a part of the costs and it is a specialization that not every translator can perform. Some transcriptionists are very productive and can transcribe the spoken word directly from a foreign language into English (in our case) as kind of a “first-pass” translation. However, you may find that the translation does not provide enough nuance to make a definitive selection after cutting out half or even a quarter of the materials. This requires you to go back and maybe transcribe the rest of it anyways and have it translated the traditional way. Also, it’s very difficult to provide any meaningful subtitles without proper time codes and it’s very difficult to do this accurately on a first-pass. Time-coding for subtitles typically requires software to set up with a script that can be timed.

Technological advancements may one day be sufficient to automate parts of the discovery phase. While tools are available to automate translations, it seems too soon to create a reliable workflow to turn video into text and into translation for the purpose of editing.

Set criteria for the Discovery Process for Video Translation

The task of translating video for editing purposes is similar to the process of discovery for a legal case. There too, we find that the scope of work seems disproportionate to the scope of the end result. There is also a sense of loss of control because the people typically tasked with the discovery process are now not the same people who have a clear understanding of the materials. Therefore, it seems natural to want to take back control by having everything translated. However, if your budget does not allow translation of everything, there are ways to reduce the need for translation in discovery by taking a more strategic approach.

  • If you are in charge of recording the footage: A good way to get ahead of this issue, and if you plan on recording interviews overseas and using an interpreter, is to consider recording the interpreter’s translation of the responses to get a sense of what’s being said. While the interpreting of a response may not be accurate enough to render a definitive translation, it may help to cut down on parts that may not be relevant.
  • You can cut raw video down by length, by cutting out dead air or retakes without the need of translation. While it may not cut your footage in half, even if it could reduce your total time by 10-20% that will immediately reduce your costs. Every minute spent on a video takes about 6 times longer to transcribe and it also requires less footage to time-code and less amount of words to translate. Spend some time cleaning up your footage and create an outtake video that you can always analyze for more info if needed. If you can reduce video to roughly the segments you want translated, that’s better than having to pay for footage you know you will not (likely) use.
  • Another good way to reduce costs may be to share your general requirements for discovery and have your LSP work on preselecting certain parts to translate first. This may be only useful if the raw footage clearly addresses these topics individually and it may require you to go back for more footage. However, you may find that all you need is the parts that relate to the topic you want to present. Videos can be divided into topics or questions and you can work on the most relevant parts first to see if you can get enough information for a final cut.
  • Work with an interpreter on-site during the editing process. For this too, you’ll need to work consciously on selecting parts that are relevant. Basically, you can work with the interpreter to get a sense of what is being spoken in general and mark segments that may need professional translation. From there, reduce your discovery to the footage selected.

This is where Automation may flourish in the future

Discovery is one of these tasks that could really benefit from automation in the future. YouTube is certainly not perfect in capturing and transcribing audio yet on their platform, but audio to text software will get better over time. That, along with the availability of Automated Translation services could make video translation services more accessible during the discovery phase. This may be an interesting field for LSPs to start exploring as a way to manage video translation services for agencies as it requires a workflow that involves technology integration with translation software. However, for now, the discovery phase is going to require some investment.

But for now…calculate the ROI of your investment and adjust budget to fit the need and outcomes

As with any investment, consider in your budget your measures of success and the potential ROI. At Language Solutions, we like to think that any investment in translation can be justified more easily by looking at the outcomes that the organization has in mind. Often, this conversation on ROI is not being shared and that leaves out the opportunity to come up with a budget that may suit both need and ROI. If your video project was based on any behavioral changes that you may want to achieve (there had to be a reason to launch this project and have a budget to begin with, right?), what’s the benefit of these behavioral changes and can you quantify this in dollars? This helps to see the worth of an investment into translation more easily. For instance, if your workforce in a particular market is X and you need to invest Y to reach this population in their language, what’s the payoff? What are the important drivers of achieving this goal? What kind of messaging are you looking for? What if we budgeted half of the scope, could we achieve the same goals by adjusting our process? These are all questions that almost never make it into the conversation and that’s a lost opportunity.

If you are translating an audio script into another language, there are also other considerations to keep in mind as well.

Just simply looking at a job like this strategically can help to look at a project like this in innovative ways. Translation may be seen as a simple service to achieve a goal, but if the service becomes unattainable due to budget restrictions, let’s have a discussion on how we can make this project a success. Too many times projects are cancelled because they seem unattainable. But too many times also the conversation does not seem to reach the potential for compromise and strategic thinking. This is why we started to look at pain points organizations who are dealing with growing translation needs and look at ways to meet needs with expectations and outcomes in a more meaningful way.

Need help with your next Video Translation project or Discovery Process? Contact Us.