Peak Translations

Subtitles and voiceover – how to be seen and heard by your foreign audience

More and more, the world is choosing to engage digitally. But what of your foreign audiences? How do you make sure they enjoy the same user experience as their native-English-speaking counterparts? The answer lies in voiceover and subtitles.

There are many different occasions when you might want to attract or engage with an international audience. It could be that you want to impart knowledge about a particular subject, and have chosen e-learning as your channel. Perhaps you want to attract interest in your business, either as a promotional video for your website or social presence, as a factory tour or product showcase. Or you may wish to enhance the visitor experience through an audio tour for a tourist or heritage attraction.

Here at Peak Translations, we have significant time-served expertise on all things translation and interpreting.

We’d like to share our best advice on how to use subtitles and voiceovers to best effect.


Adding subtitles to your video content makes your content more digestible and relatable for a foreign-language audience.  Subtitles are also particularly suited where your audience might wish to engage with your content silently, e.g. whilst scrolling through social media during a commute.

In essence, subtitles are a shortened version of what is being said. So how do you decide what to subtitle?

At Peak, our understanding of the technical aspects of subtitles is as important as the translation itself. Appropriate subtitles are those which fulfil the following:  

  • Appear on no more than two lines per screen and include no more than 30 characters per line. This is considered an appropriate length for your reader to easily digest the content. Bear in mind that the number of characters in your word may be distinctly longer when you are communicating in a language with a particular love of compound nouns, e.g., Nahrungsmittelunverträglichkeit which has twice the number of characters of its English equivalent, food intolerance.
  • Appear on screen for an appropriate amount of time, taking into account the reading speed of your audience. Reading speed can be impacted by a number of factors, including the age of your reader; the technical content of the material, font size, and the familiarity of your reader with the subject.
  • Reflect messaging that not only captures the key points of the original script but matches up to the visuals in the video or e-learning. Subtitles should not come in quick succession; rather, they should be staggered to allow your audience the time to absorb the message, and relate it back to the images.

When working with a client on subtitles, the team at Peak takes the original script, creates shorter subtitles in English, and gets client approval on them, before embarking on the translation. It means we can make sure we have not inadvertently omitted an important element of the content.


Voiceovers feature as an audio aid. They are often used for audio tours, but can also be used alongside, or in place of, subtitles, across:  

  • e-learning;
  • pre-recorded webinars or presentations, or
  • translations of dialogue in film. (In fact, in some foreign countries, the voiceover artist is actually more famous than the actor since their voice is so widely recognised.)


When assessing a requirement for a voiceover, we start with the original script.

We work with our client to adopt the best approach for the voiceover recordings which often means splitting the script into appropriate chunks. The reason for breaking the whole down into independent parts – supplied as individual .wav files – is that it allows changes to be made to certain elements of the voiceover without the need to re-record it in its entirety.

The disruption caused by Covid has brought into sharp focus the importance of this segmented approach. It is one we have put to good use when creating audio tours for tourist attractions, where we have created a separate .wav file on those elements that are subject to change (specifically on social distancing and the use of hand gel). The script is amended before the voiceover recording to create these standalone sentences.

Once we’ve determined the script, we offer the client a selection of different voices. It is important here to consider whether your foreign-language audience shares the same characteristics as your UK audience. For example, a tourist attraction in the UK may attract an overseas audience different to the British audience. The ideal British customer profile may be local families, in which case a voiceover of a parent or child may be most appropriate, possibly also with the dialect of that area. The ideal Far East customer, on the other hand, might be those who have the disposable income to travel to the UK, and may be travelling as couples or friendship groups, not families.

Whether to opt for subtitles or voiceover, or both, to support your foreign audience experience, will be determined by what the content is, who you are targeting, when they will be digesting that content, how, and where. Chosen well, subtitles and voiceover are highly effective in getting your message across to foreign audiences.  





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