The Challenges of Film Translation

May 4, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

The Challenges of Film Translation artMovies are probably one of the cultural products that are most likely to be exported to other countries, along with music and fashion. That being said, not every movie that is popular in its home country is going to cross over and become a hit in another country, especially one with a very different culture. This is something that translators play a huge role in, as they can make a movie understandable and relatable in a new language or make it incomprehensible and written off as “one of those weird foreign films”.

The truth is, translating for movies is one of the hardest tasks any translator will ever take on in their career. Before one can even begin, a choice has to be made between using subtitles or dubbing the film in order to reach the target audience. Both methods have their pros and cons, with subtitles being easier to translate in some ways but harder due to the limited number of words that can appear on the screen at any given time. Dubbing can be great if the film would be best conveyed through audio rather than reading, but it can be hard to match what the original actor is saying to what the voice actor must say.

Moving on from the subtitling versus dubbing issue, there is the issue of how different the target audience may be culturally and linguistically from the original audience. For instance, a film that was originally done in Spanish that needs to be translated into Italian would require much less effort in terms of making sure colloquialisms, slang, and other idiomatic language was accurately conveyed in the target language. This is because Italian and Spanish are very similar, both of them being Romance languages. Besides that, however, Spanish and Italian happen to be more similar than, say, Spanish and French.

Spanish and Italian may be more culturally similar, as well. This is helpful with other translation dilemmas like what to do about nicknames that people have, such as in mafia crime films, or how to make the audience understand what a certain gesture means. Culturally, Italy and Spain are probably more similar than France and Spain, which, again, makes translating these sorts of things easier. If one were to try and translate a nickname like “pelado”, literally “bald” in Spanish, into English, your best bet for reaching an audience is to use something other than “baldy”. It gets the meaning across, but there are other terms, like “cue ball”, that might jive better with the overall context of the film, especially if a lot of a certain kind of slang is used.

Translating a film is a daunting task, and much of the success a film could have overseas is in the hands of the translator. Any translator can literally translate for a film, but the true essence of what the director was trying to get the audience to feel may be completely lost. A great film translator knows just how to tweak the language to make it say what the original film was attempting to convey.

For an overview of Alpha Omega Translations’ expertise, visit our audio and video translation service page.

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