Top 10 Tips for Multi-Language Video and E-Learning Voice Over Narration

Effective use voice over narration will bring professionalism and consistency to your brand. The use of web-based company/product videos and e-learning applications has greatly increased in recent years, as has the need to localize these assets to a broad range of geographies. This creates significant challenges for marketing and training professionals, who seek to maintain consistent messaging, avoid cultural pitfalls, and streamline the localization process. Many companies have achieved success localizing professionally recorded voice prompts for phone applications, but the greater need for vocal expressiveness and interpretation associated with long-form voice narration has made the same success elusive.

This top ten list offers tips to ensure that your web videos and e-learning modules are effectively supported globally by professional, multi-language voice narration.

1. Use professional voice actors

If you were casting a Broadway musical, would you pick Sally from the lighting department to play the lead just because she was there? Of course not! While this example may seem hyperbolic, the message holds true for narration: just as musical theater actors are trained to sing, dance, and act, so too are professional voice actors trained to speak clearly, to enunciate properly, and to convey emotions and ideas with their voices alone. This is a skill that not many people have, and only people who have the right training and experience will be able to provide the results you’re looking for. In other words, unless Sally from lighting is also trained in classical theater, you’re better off casting a professional.

This is especially true when it comes to long-form voice over narration for web videos or e-learning applications, which typically require a broader range of interpretative capabilities versus what’s required to record a telephone prompt, for instance. E-learning, in particular, demands an engaging voice that can hold somebody’s attention, guide them through the lesson, and ensure the information they’ve imparted actually sticks. Poor quality narration in an e-learning video is just as detrimental as a boring and monotonous teacher standing at the front of the classroom. Here are a few of the benefits of hiring professional voice actors:

  • They’re trained to maintain consistent style, pace, energy levels, and pronunciation across different media and throughout a series of videos or modules, even if they’re recorded over an extended time period
  • They have a dynamic vocal style that’s needed to grab and hold the attention of viewers, and to help them retain the information they’re supposed to learn
  • When it comes to highly technical content with industry-specific terms, they’ll be adept at pronouncing long and complex words and phrases in a way that’s slow enough for learners to grasp but not so slow that people watching the video feel patronized

2. Employ professional translation services

Teaching something to another person is a very difficult task, even when the two people speak the same language. But when you throw in an additional obstacle—such as translating the lesson from one language to another—you increase the chances that the learner or viewer will not walk away with the message you’re trying to impart. Let’s look at an example of why it’s so important to hire professional translators:

Everybody is familiar with KFC’s famous slogan, Finger-lickin’ good. Well, when KFC decided to take this idiomatic slogan across the ocean and advertise in China, they ended up with the tagline We’ll eat your fingers off. See the problem? While this example is quite funny (and many translational blunders are), it illustrates a huge problem: phrases and sentences don’t often translate easily to other languages, especially when there are idioms and regional vernacular involved. The only way to ensure a successful translation is to hire a professional translator who is fluent in both languages.

Furthermore, when you endeavor to translate voice-narrated content into multiple languages, you need to ensure consistency across the board, and you cannot achieve this with the type of direct translation that you’d get from an amateur speaker or an online translation service. The job of a translator isn’t to take words from one language and convert them directly into another—it’s to convey the same idea in one language that was said in another.

Sometimes that means using different wording, different phrasing, and different figures of speech, and only a professional will be able to provide this level of specialization, quality, and consistency across multiple languages. Moreover, the last thing you want is for an amateur translation to be offensive, culturally sensitive, or politically incorrect. Not only will your message be lost, but you’ll also anger viewers, and your reputation and brand will suffer.

When possible, it’s advisable to use the same vendor for translation and recording, as this will ensure a unified, consistent process across all languages, will reduce errors, and will simplify the change management process down the road.

3. Circulate drafts to all language stakeholders regularly

It’s critical to solicit feedback from sponsoring business owners for each language or geography throughout the process. Especially at the beginning of the project, after the rough draft of the script is written, and right before narration begins. In the beginning, you want to gather broad feedback about the project in general that will guide you when making executive decisions down the road. One of the most important areas where this can help is cultural relevance and sensitivity. Again, let’s look at an example that can elucidate the issue:

When the California Milk Processor Board wanted to expand their advertising into Latin America, their famous Got Milk? slogan was mistranslated into Are you lactating? While this may seem like a humorous blunder to Americans, the mistake would not have been well-received in Latin America, where the idea of a mother running out of milk is actually offensive. With insight from the right people, you can guide the project appropriately to ensure it will be well-received across different geographies.

Once the script has been written, you should consult stakeholders again to ensure that scripting is accurate, that the translation is clear, concise, and conveys the right message, and that all pronunciation is accurate throughout the entire video. Here’s another quick example: if you were to use the British term “half seven” when referring to the time, you’d have Germans thinking 6:30, and Americans wondering if it was 6:30 or 7:30. (It’s 7:30.) It’s these small details that can derail an entire project, so it’s the small details you must focus on.

Finally, right before recording, you should solicit feedback again to ensure there aren’t any inconsistencies from one geography to the next. For instance, say you were creating a product video for a watch, but that the watch was digital in some regions and analog in others. You’d want to make sure that the scripting described the right product, and that the right product was featured in the video. The same holds true of process videos that might differ from one location to another.

4. Get your video and audio people collaborating early on

Any basic video has two major components: audio and video. These components are often tackled by different teams, but it’s essential that they work together from the very beginning of the project to ensure audio-to-video synchronization. Audio-video sync, which is the relative timing of audio components as they relate to video components, is relatively easy to achieve when audio and video are recorded together. However, the process is more complicated when audio and video are recorded separately, as is the case with voice-over videos. Recording the two separately is also the best way to ensure optimal audio quality, but it does make the job more difficult.

Audio-video sync is most important when the dialogue refers directly to what’s on the screen, such as when the narration is referring to a product feature that should be displayed in the video. When audio and visual work together, they can ensure that important time markers are included in the script, because these denote vital elements that appear on-screen at those exact moments. Time markers typically note the amount of time that’s elapsed since the beginning of the video, and the voice talent can use these to pace their narration.

5. Provide the voice over narration talent with the video

This may seem obvious, but seeing the video provides important context for the voice over narration talent to adapt her or his unique style, pacing, and intonation. Also, voice talents may see timing issues that were not originally anticipated, and can alert the video producer. The risk of producing the audio recording first before it making it available to the voice over narration talent:

  • The audio may be too long to be synchronized with the video – either in its entire length or in key sections.
  • For product demonstrations, there might be too much time between the visual display of product features to fill with sound – resulting in a lengthy, awkward pause that breaks up the flow of the video.
  • It is generally easier to manipulate visual elements to fit the audio if changes need to be made. Once a script is a recorded, making changes could be costly if professional narration is engaged.

6. Nail the finished English product before localizing your product

When you’re dealing with multi-language and e-learning videos, the polished original English version should be the demo you use to attract new stakeholders and not the aim of the project after you’ve already found other-language stakeholders. In other words, don’t try to get other-language stakeholders on board until you’ve already completed the original video, complete with script and voice over narration.

Why? Because to paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli, you should hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Imagine you got your stakeholders on board with the script alone, but then encountered problems with key content or timing issues during production. You’d have to re-write the script and get everybody on board all over again. Not only will this recording change require more money, but it may also damage your credibility in the process.

Start by completing the English version first, and then you can work toward localizing it for other geographies. This is also a great way to get the stakeholder feedback discussed in tip three, because you’ll have a tangible finished project to show prospects. Furthermore, during the production process with the original version, you’ll likely learn a lot along the way about the audio-video sync, and you can use what you learn to facilitate production during subsequent versions.

7. Listen to multiple demos in each language

Professional voice over  narration service providers often offer multiple voice talents for a given language. Evaluating multiple demos will ensure that your choice best reflects your brand; in terms of style, pace, and energy level. Carefully listening to more than one voice can also give you and your colleagues a different perspective on how the language will sound and how it will be subliminally perceived.

One consideration is level of formality. Some customers may feel more comfortable with a more formal style, yet our experience has shown that if the person selecting the voice talent is not a native speaker of a given language, the risk is that the chosen voice talent may sound “less educated”, or “not professional”. The same person may not recognize regional accents when a delivery that is more neutral for a given geography is desired.

8. Pick a voice talent that aligns with your brand and customer personas

Many organizations define “customer personas” that represent the demographics and psychographic characteristics of their buyers. The voice over narration you choose acts as an important vehicle for creating comfort and familiarity with your customers, and should represent characteristics that are consistent with your brand. A professional voice services firm may offer voice talents with a broad variety of vocal styles that could potentially appeal to these personas, and these firms can assist in voice talent selection.

Professional voice actors are experienced in adapting their vocal style, pace, and intonation to appeal to their audience, so it is a good idea to provide a written customer persona profile to the chosen voice talent. You may also request a “coached session” in which the voice “buyer” can provide real-time guidance and feedback to the voice talent during recording, often supported by remote technology such as ipDTL, SourceConnect, or even a simple phone patch.

9. Use the same branded voice across all voice touchpoints

Everybody knows how important it is for a brand to maintain a consistent voice when communicating with customers, but did you know that you should take this advice literally as well? Many clients will come into contact with recorded voices multiple times during their relationship with your organization, and it’s important that they hear a familiar voice each time. This creates consistency, builds a relationship with each customer, reinforces your brand, and creates loyalty.

Imagine you had to call a customer service hotline on multiple occasions regarding the same issue and imagine you got a new rep each time and had to explain the problem over and over again. Frustrating, right? But then imagine the opposite: each time you called you got the same person, and that the rep remembered you each time and asked how you were before getting back to solving your problem. This is much better customer service because the rep is working at building a relationship with you. This becomes even more important when your clients only ever deal with recorded voices because there is no person on the other end to build a relationship with. However, if a client always hears the same voice, it’s like seeing a familiar face in a room full of strangers, and that voice will become a symbol of your organization. Here are a few places you may want to consider using the same voice over narration (or a few select voices):

  • Web videos
  • Phone greetings
  • Automated call operators
  • Interactive voice response systems
  • Hold messages
  • Broadcast advertisements

Going back to point three, this is another place where feedback from stakeholders can be invaluable, because while one style of voice may work in one geography, it may not fly in another. For instance, a high-energy and enthusiastic voice may work for one country, but that same voice might be considered inappropriate or off-target for clients elsewhere who prefer a more formal and professional tone.

10. Use one process and one vendor for all languages

When it comes to creating multi-language voice over narration for videos, there are many steps in the process, including script writing and review, recording, sound editing, file naming, archiving, and delivery. And at every step along the way, there is plenty of room for mistakes. Moreover, when you use different vendors for each language, each step will be approached and executed differently, meaning no two projects will be alike.

Not only is this inefficient, but it also leaves you open to inconsistencies, and makes it impossible for you to predict problems. For example, perhaps your French audio ends up sounding louder than your English, or maybe your Italian audio contains more silence leading into the first word than your German version. These inconsistencies in the audio-visual products are also inconsistencies in your brand, and as discussed, this is the opposite of what you’re going for.

Think back to tip six when you learned about using a polished English version as a guide to help you create localized versions. When you do that, you’re able to learn from your mistakes and perfect the process. When you use the same process and the same vendor for all your languages, the same principle holds true: the vendor has time to get used to the content and the process and is able to remain consistent across all language productions.

Moreover, that one vendor will be able to name and archive all the recordings in a consistent manner, which will make it much easier for you to locate those recordings down the road. The only way to achieve this level of perfection and consistency is to use the same professional voice services firm for each language production, because that firm will execute the process the same way over and over again, providing you with a uniform and reliable product every time.