• Ty Smarpat

Multilingual Voice-Over & Subtitling for eLearning Courses

Updated: Oct 11

Multilingual Voice-over or Subtitling for eLearning Courses


When you’re translating your eLearning content, what’s the best option for localizing audio?

You’re an eLearning content creator and you’re putting together course content that’s going to be rolled out in five different countries. Your training also includes audio and if you decide to localize the audio component you have the option to decide between voice-over or subtitling.

This is a decision faced by most eLearning professionals who produce content for global audiences. What are the pros and cons? Which option makes the most sense based on the audience and the goals of the training? This will differ based on the parameters of your course and your learning objectives. But to get a better understanding of either approach, let’s define them and what they actually entail.


Multilingual Voice-over


Multilingual voice-over involves having voice talent record in-language audio that matches your original English audio and then inserting the localized audio in to the foreign language versions of your eLearning course content. If the goal is full immersion, and a completely localized experience for the learner, then voice-over is by far the best option. Providing course content in a learner’s mother tongue carries with it a long list of benefits, from boosted self-confidence, increased psychological stamina, enhanced self-expressive skills, and an increased ability to comprehend more abstract concepts and meaning (Mother Tongue as a Medium of Instruction: Benefits and Challenges). With on-screen text, animations, quiz elements, and any other assets localized, English audio can be distracting at best. At worst it will prevent the learner from actually completing the course content, depending on their own language skill and knowledge of the English language. Voice-over provides a seamless experience for the learner, which we know is one of the primary objectives of course design.

The primary reason for not choosing voice-over for localization is cost. Voice-over involves generating and translating a narration script, employing multilingual voice talent, studio time, and audio editing. Not to mention the time required to drop in and sync the multilingual audio tracks into the course during the engineering step.

One option for offering voice-over, while addressing concerns over cost, is using an automated text to speech application such as Amazon Polly. While this doesn’t provide the same level of quality as human voice-over, it is an option for certain projects when cost is a primary concern and the quality of the audio isn’t the highest priority.

If voice-over is an option you would like to explore, look for a translation vendor that provides an end-to-end service for eLearning translation. They will likely be able to provide you with a pricing estimate for voice-over, along with voice talent samples that you can choose from to best match your preferences to match the English audio. In addition, many translation vendors will provide pricing for transcription services if you don’t have a narration script to provide for voice-over.


Subtitling - A viable alternative to Multilingual Voice-over


As we said above, the best option for a fully immersive, fully localized experience for a foreign language learner is going to be voice-over by far. Voice-over allows the learner to stay on-task and focus on the learning objectives without being distracted, or worse, not understanding at all, the audio component of your training. Second to voice-over in effectiveness is subtitling, and this is certainly a very viable option for serving your foreign language learners.

We’ve all watched movies with subtitles. At first it’s distracting and a bit frustrating, and you tend to worry that it’s impacting your ability to fully immerse yourself in the movie. Then you get to a point in the movie (assuming it’s a good movie) where you realize you forgot that you were reading the subtitles, because you were so engrossed in what was happening on screen. Subtitles for eLearning work very much the same way. Depending on the complexity of what’s being expressed, subtitles can provide a seamless enough experience to not cause any concerns over information intake and learner outcomes.

When budget is a concern, subtitling is your best option for creating a seamless experience without adding much additional cost. Again, as with voice-over, subtitling does require that you have an English narration script that you can provide your translation vendor. As with voice-over, most experienced eLearning translation vendors will also offer transcription and can provide pricing to generate a narration script. An experienced translation vendor will also have the ability to insert the subtitles during the engineering process, providing you back with a fully prepared foreign language course which is ready for distribution into your LMS.

Which one to choose?

Every eLearning project has its own requirements. To get a better idea of which approach will work best for your specific course, it’s useful to reach out to your language service provider and ask questions about the challenges you foresee, based on the considerations we listed above. While subtitling is great for certain types of courses, it might not always be a great approach for others. Same goes for voice-over. The best way to find out, though, is to reach out to your language service provider, who will have the expertise and knowledge necessary to discern just what your eLearning course requires and provide pricing for both options so you can compare and decide.