What is multimedia localization? A Brief Introduction

The term “multimedia localization” has become common parlance in the translation industry – but what does it actually mean? And why is it so important? In this article, we, the Multimedia Department at text&form, will provide you with a brief introduction to this exciting new field and shed some light on the many ways in which multimedia localization can benefit your business.

mic in recording studioThe Concept

In the translation industry, “localization” refers to the process by which the source text is specially adjusted to suit the linguistic, cultural and geographical attributes of the target country or region. This is more than just a question of translation of words: units of measure, currencies, date and time formats, among other things, are all adapted to local conventions in order to produce a text that is specifically geared toward the target market. The ultimate goal is to create an “invisible translation” which, to the reader, does not appear to be a translation at all, but an original text in its own right.


As a natural extension of this concept, “multimedia localization” (MML) can be understood as the process of localizing not only written texts, but also audio and video content. This multimedia content can take the form of corporate films, product videos or e-learning courses. MML is a complex process which involves a number of special considerations, particularly on the part of the translators.

The Process

The process of multimedia localization generally comprises the following steps:

1. Transcription
In the first step, all of the source material must be compiled. Spoken text is transcribed and all on-screen texts are organized in the form of a script.

2. Timecode creation
Next, each text segment in the script is assigned a timecode, defining the beginning, the duration and the end of each spoken segment. The timecode will later be used to check the length of the translated segments and time the finished audio track.

3. Translation
The task of translating a multimedia project (often referred to as “audiovisual translation,” or AVT) involves unique challenges which distinguish this process from other types of translation. In addition to ensuring that content and style are translated correctly, the translator must ensure that the translated text is of the appropriate length, that the audio material sounds natural when spoken and that video and audio content remain in sync. The length of the translation must be meticulously checked against the source material and adjusted as necessary.
The translated text is then sent to the customer for approval. In some cases, detailed pronunciation guides are created to ensure that proper nouns and foreign language words are pronounced correctly by the voice talent.
audio recording talk

4. Voice recording or subtitling
After the customer has approved the script, the final text is taken to a recording studio where it is recorded – through dubbing or voice over – by a professional speaker. If needed, the customer may choose to observe or manage the recording in real time, either in person or via telephone. In the audio post-production phase, the final voice track is cleaned, mastered and precisely timed to match the video content.

As an alternative, the multimedia project can be subtitled. In this case, the translation is displayed in the form of a one to two-line text at the bottom edge of the screen. The subtitle text is timed to appear alongside the original spoken content.

5. Video production
To complete the multimedia localization process, it is also necessary to replace all on-screen texts with translated content that conforms to local conventions. In the video post-production phase, the finished voice track is combined with the video material and rendered in the appropriate format.
The result of this complex process is a fully localized product which is perfectly honed to meet the needs of the target market.

The Benefits

Through clear, concise presentation of information, multimedia content allows creators to appeal to consumers in an effective, direct and emotional manner – far more so than text on its own. So it’s not difficult to understand why more and more companies are beginning to rely on multimedia content to communicate information and promote their products.
Despite the increasing prevalence of English in the international business community, it is still more effective for companies to communicate with customers in their native languages. In fact, over 70% of customers prefer products and information presented to them in their own language – and over 50% will still choose these products even if they are more expensive than their English language alternatives. It just goes to show that companies aiming to sell their products and services in international markets must quite literally speak the language of their customers.
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