Voice-over translation

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Voice-over translation is an audiovisual translation[1] technique in which, unlike in dubbing, actor voices are recorded over the original audio track which can be heard in the background.

This method of translation is most often used in documentaries and news reports to translate words of foreign-language interviewees in countries where subtitling is not the norm. In some countries, most notably in Eastern Europe, Mongolia, Vietnam and Cambodia[citation needed], it is commonly used to translate many movies.


A typical voice-over translation is usually done by a single male or female voice artist. It is slow paced, therefore shortened but fully intelligible, usually trailing the original dialogue by a few seconds. The original audio can thus be heard to some extent, allowing the viewer to grasp the actors' voices, yet due to the lack of synchronisation between original dialogue and a voice-over, original music is usually a victim of lowering the original track's volume. The voice-over usually contains only a hint of emotion, as many of the interpreters try to sound "transparent" to the audience. Any text appearing on the screen is also usually read out by the interpreter, although in more recent times, it is sometimes carried with subtitles covering any on-screen text.

Dmitriy Puchkov has been very outspoken about simultaneous interpretation, stating that it should be abandoned in favour of a more precise translation, with thorough efforts to research and find Russian equivalents in cases of lexical gaps, and maintains numerous lists of gaffes made by interpreters, including highly experienced ones such as Mikhalev.[2] However, others have commented that the creativity of good interpreters can make the film more enjoyable, though deviating from the filmmaker's original intentions.[3]

In Russia[edit]

Called Gavrilov translation (Russian: перевод Гаврилова perevod Gavrilova [pʲɪrʲɪˈvod ɡɐˈvrʲiləvə]) or single-voice translation (Russian: одноголосый перевод), the technique takes its name from Andrey Gavrilov, one of the most prominent artists in the area. The term is used to refer to single-voice dubs in general, but not necessarily only those performed by Gavrilov himself. Such dubbing used to be ubiquitous in Russian-speaking countries on films shown on cable television and sold on video, especially illegal copies, and are sometimes included as additional audio tracks on DVDs sold in the region, along with dubbing performed by multiple actors.

During the early years of the Brezhnev era, when availability of foreign films was severely restricted, Goskino, the USSR State Committee for Cinematography, held closed-door screenings of many Western films, open mainly to workers in the film industry, politicians, and other members of the elite.[4] Those screenings were interpreted simultaneously by interpreters who specialised in films, where an effective conveyance of humour, idioms, and other subtleties of speech were required. Some of the most prolific "Gavrilov translators" began their careers at such screenings, including Andrey Gavrilov himself, as well as Aleksey Mikhalyov and Leonid Volodarskiy. Their services were also used at film festivals, where Western films were accessible to a larger public, and allowed the interpreters to gain further recognition.

With the introduction of VCRs in the 1970s, and the subsequent boom in illegal unlicensed videocassette sales, which were the only means of seeing Western films available to the general public, the same interpreters began to lend their voices to these tapes. Many of their voices had a distinct nasal quality, most pronounced in Volodarskiy, which led to the rise of an urban legend that the interpreters wore a noseclip so that the authorities would not be able to identify them by their voice and arrest them. Interviews with many of the interpreters revealed that this was not true,[4][5] and that authorities generally turned a blind eye to them, focusing their efforts on the distributors of the tapes instead. This was also due to the lack of specific law forbidding the work of these interpreters, and they could only be prosecuted under the relatively minor offence of illicit work.[6]

The three aforementioned interpreters, Gavrilov, Mikhalev, and Volodarskiy, were the leading names in film dubbing in the last decades of the 20th century, with dubs done by each of them numbering in the thousands.[4][5] Many of these dubs were made using simultaneous interpretation, due to time constraints caused by competition among the distributors to be the first to release a new production, as well as the sheer volume of new films.[5] Whenever possible, however, the interpreters preferred to watch the films a few times first, making notes on the more difficult parts of the dialogue, and only then record a dub, which also allowed them to refuse dubbing movies they didn't like.[3] While each of the interpreters dubbed a wide range of films, with many films being available in multiple versions done by different interpreters, the big names usually had specific film genres that they were known to excel at. Gavrilov, for instance, was usually heard in action films, including Total Recall and Die Hard; Mikhalev specialised in comedy and drama, most notably A Streetcar Named Desire and The Silence of the Lambs; while Volodarskiy, who is most readily associated not with a particular genre, but with the nasal intonation of his voice, is best remembered for his dubbing of Star Wars.[7] It is unclear why the term "Gavrilov translation" came to bear Gavrilov's name, despite Mikhalev being the most celebrated of the interpreters,[7] though the popular nature of films dubbed by Gavrilov may be the most likely explanation. Other notable names of the period include Vasiliy Gorchakov, Mikhail Ivanov, Grigoriy Libergal, and Yuriy Zhivov.

After perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union, when restrictions on Western films were lifted, movie theatres, the state television channels, and eventually DVD releases primarily employed multiple-voice dubbings done by professional actors. However, cable television and the thriving unauthorized video industry continued fuelling demand for Gavrilov translations. This period marked a significant drop in the quality of such dubbings, as the intense competition between the numerous infringement groups and the lack of available funds resulted in releases with non-professional in-house dubbing.[4] This was further exacerbated by the death of Mikhalev in 1994 and fewer recordings being produced by many of the other skilled veterans of the industry, who pursued alternative career paths. Numerous well-regarded newcomers took their place, including Alexey Medvedev, Petr Glants, Peter Kartsev, Pavel Sanayev, Sergey Vizgunov, and most famously Dmitry "Goblin" Puchkov. The latter is notorious for his direct translation of profanity, as well as alternative "funny translations" of Hollywood blockbusters, such as Star Wars: Storm in the Glass after Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

In later years, however, the use of Russian mat (profanity) in the dubbings had been a great source of controversy. While many unlicensed recordings do not shy away from translating expletives literally, Gavrilov, Mikhalev, and Volodarskiy have all stated that they feel that Russian mat is more emotionally charged and less publicly acceptable than English obscenities, and would only use it in their dubs when they felt it was absolutely crucial to the film's plot.[3][6][8]

In Poland[edit]

Voice-over translation is the traditional translation method in Polish television and DVDs (which most of the time provide the original audio track), except for children's material, especially animation, which is often fully dubbed. The word lektor ("reader") is used to refer to the translation.

Voice-over is the preferred form of dubbing among Polish broadcasters due to being very cheap to produce, and because of its wide use, it seems to be widely accepted by most of the audience. Although attempts to introduce full dubs to Polish television met with some protests,[citation needed] the negative reviews were mostly limited to online communities, in which the preferred form of translation are subtitles; dubbed movies are usually accepted among people who are not fans of the original versions. Voice-over is generally preferred over subtitles – an opinion poll conducted in 2008 shown only 19% of Poles supports the switch to subtitling in television;[citation needed] TVP tried to introduce subtitled versions of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and Radio Free Roscoe, which, due to low ratings, were later replaced with their existing, fully dubbed versions. Since then, outside some special cases, only some anime titles aired with only subtitles, as being the most acceptable form among otaku.

The most notable readers are Stanisław Olejniczak, Janusz Szydłowski, Tomasz Knapik, Piotr Borowiec and Maciej Gudowski.[9]

In Bulgaria[edit]

Voice-over translation is also common, but each film (or episode) is normally voiced by professional actors. The voice artists try to match the original voice and preserve the intonation. The main reason for the use of this type of translation is that unlike synchronized voice translation, it takes a relatively short time to produce, as there is no need to synchronize the voices with the character's lip movements, which is compensated by the quieted original audio. When there is no speaking in the film for some time, the original sound is turned up. In later years, as more films are distributed with separate full mix and music+effects tracks, some voice-over translations in Bulgaria have been produced by only turning down the voice track, in this way not affecting the other sounds. One actor always reads the translation crew's names over the show's ending credits (except for when there are dialogues over the credits).

At the end of the 1980s, as VCRs began spreading in Bulgaria, it was common to have an English language film in German, with a voice-over by a single person (usually male). These films were most often filmed inside a cinema with a hand-held camera, or low-quality copies of preview releases (similar to a bootleg Region 5 releases). In the mid-90s, the voice-over became more professional, using a female voice actor for the corresponding parts, and with the actors trying to match the intonation of the original characters.

Outside of Eastern Europe[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ USA, Translate. "Voice-over Translation". USATranslate.com. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  2. ^ (in Russian) Interview with Dmitriy Puchkov, Tynu40k Goblina.
  3. ^ a b c (in Russian) Alexey Mikhalev: The Mozart of Simultaneous Interpretation Archived 2006-10-25 at the Wayback Machine, S. Kudryavtsev.
  4. ^ a b c d (in Russian) Interview with Leonid Volodarskiy, "Maxim" magazine.
  5. ^ a b c (in Russian) Interview with Mikhail Ivanov, "Chas Pik" TV programme. (AVI video)
  6. ^ a b (in Russian) Interview with Leonid Volodarskiy, A. Vasilyev, "Komsomolskaya Pravda".
  7. ^ a b (in Russian) Voices Behind the Scenes Archived 2007-01-04 at the Wayback Machine, A. Loyevskiy, "Video-Ace Express" magazine, iss. 15-16.
  8. ^ (in Russian) Interview with Andrey Gavrilov "Rossiya" television network. (AVI video)
  9. ^ New York Times article on "reading" in Poland

External links[edit]