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Octiber 11, 2021

Expressions. Nuances. Cultural adaptation. These are some of the issues that a professional language agency must consider when translating films.

Around 72% of the world does not speak English. As studios know, that opens a huge market for films either for multicultural communities at home (Hispanics, Chinese, Russians, Vietnamese, etc.) or for far larger distribution markets abroad. And of course, a version targeted to ethnic groups here can be used in their country of origin there.

Among others, two interesting projects have bookended Auerbach International's 30-year expertise --

Shortly after we opened in 1991, a consultant for Disney's Beauty and the Beast contacted us. The studio was negotiating a contract with the actress dubbing the voice of Belle in Spain and needed various iterations of the contract translated overnight from and into Spanish. Back in those Dark Ages of no internet and no email, most overseas communications were done by fax. The negotiators in LA faxed us the English contract to translate, we faxed the Spanish to the negotiators in Madrid who in turn faxed us the needed changes to be rendered into English. And vice versa.

Fast forward to 2020. We were very honored to translate and subtitle into 21 languages The Great 14th, the world's only film narrated by and about the life of the (current 14th) Dalai Lama. Included in the 21 languages were Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Burmese, Thai, Malay, Hindi, Arabic, Russian and common European ones.

The first step in any film translation is normally a transcription, writing the dialog in its native language. If a film studio has a script from which the actors are not extemporaneously deviating, the script will work fine. Sometimes however, clients have audio interviews, podcasts or TV broadcasts which they want to share with a far wider non-English audience. In either case, any language agency needs something written - the script or the transcript -- to translate from.

A proper translation must replicate concepts, not direct words. Google Translate and other software programs are generally more literal. For example, a year ago Google translated the simple sentence, "I'm on the fence about coming to your party" into French as, "I am on top of the fence about if I can come to your party." The current Google rendering into French is "I'm at the point of coming to your party." Neither version is accurate; "on the fence" is an expression meaning that the speaker is undecided about what action to take.

This is a prime example of why studios should always, without exception, rely on professional linguists. And "professional" does not mean your foreign-born neighbor, your cousin who used to live abroad, or Maria down the hall who comes from there. Speaking a language in no way qualifies the person to be a translator (conveyor of written communication) or even more as an interpreter (conveyor of spoken communication). Both translating and interpreting are highly specialized fields that few people in the world can do well.

To do the process accurately, Auerbach International's professional linguists must meet five criteria:

   1.   Master's level or equivalent training as translators or interpreters;
   2.   Work only into their native languages;
   3.   Complete knowledge of the subject terminology in both the original and the target (destination) language;
   4.   At least ten years' ongoing experience to keep their skills honed; and
   5.   Possession of the proper software. That does not mean translation programs. It does mean tools that create a Translation Memory, software that captures the words and phrases as the translator is working. Then when these terms repeat later in the script, the computer re-calls them immediately. The translation team can change them if the context requires or decide that the dialog will flow fine by keeping consistent terminology. And the more "matches" the computer finds, the more the client benefits from price reductions.

Cultural adaption is also equally important and can go very wrong. For example, the film Like Water for Chocolate was translated literally from Spanish and lost its Mexican connotation of reaching the peak of sexual arousal.

Some additional pointers:

   •  The English script must be time-coded before the translation begins so that the production team knows where to place the subtitles or dubbing.
   •  Studios should also ensure that the film is 100% complete before the linguistic process starts.
   •  Any change to the film itself will cause the subtitling or dubbing to be re-done, resulting in skyrocketing costs.
   •  If changes are critical, studios should rename and date each master version.

Books and films require highly skilled linguists to get the nuances, expressions, dialogs and cultural references right. And that's why any studio should rely on an experienced, highly professional language agency such as Auerbach with the expertise to implement all phases - transcription, translation, subtitling, dubbing, film-name and publicity review to ensure no cultural gaffes, and more - all for many languages and with guaranteed accuracy.

Philip Auerbach, President
Auerbach International Inc.
CA tel 415 529 0042 x 107
PA tel 267 865 6890 x 107

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    •    Last Updated Friday, December 01st, 2023 at 02:52 pm