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With a sprawling mass of speakers but significant national differences, the Spanish language is no picnic. In this article, we take a look at the enthralling world of Spanish voice overs and the people who make them happen.

What is a Voice Over?

Voice over is essentially a technique where a voice is added to a radio, television production or film. Such a voice usually reads from a script and may do a vast range of things: narration, voiceover translation, announcements, radio and audio ads, etc.

Dubbing is considered to be different from voice over. While a voiceover translation will keep the original track and add a translation on top, a dubbing replaces the audio entirely and creates new voices.

We will be examining voice over and dubbing together because they are very much linked in the Spanish market.

Spanish Voice Overs

The Spanish-speaking market is vast, with over 450 million speakers of the language spread out primarily throughout the Americas and Spain. Voice over (and specifically dubbing) is primarily done in Mexico for the Latin American market and in Spain for the Spanish market.

Mexico and Latin America

Mexico is the most important center for Spanish voice overs for Latin America. This market is quite challenging because it is made up of more than twenty different countries. Each country speaks in Spanish but with a particular style, accents, and slang.

Mexico dubs in a ‘neutral’ Spanish: with an accent that is not heavy (usually Spanish from Mexico City) and little use of colloquialisms or slang. These dubbings continue to travel far and wide throughout the Americas.

The long story of dubbing in Mexico started in 1944. MGM went to Mexico that year, to try and find voice talent to dub their films for the Spanish-speaking world. The film studio found an initial group of talent and took them to New York City. This was the beginning of a partnership which essentially created the dubbing industry in Mexico.

The industry grew substantially throughout the 20th century and today it generates around 70 million USD per year. There are some 35 dubbing studios in this country, with around 1500 actors working the trade and about 1000 direct and 6000 indirect jobs. The Mexican dubbing market contributes around 70% of the dubbing done worldwide into ‘Latin American Spanish’.


Other Latin American countries have started to do Spanish voice overs and partake in the market. One such country is Colombia. The advantage that this Latin American country has is that it too has a ‘neutral’ Spanish accent (specifically that of Bogotá, the capital).


This post has been updated in August 2021.

The Debate around ‘Neutral Spanish’

Note that talking about ‘neutral’ Spanish is controversial, and rightly so. Such a ‘neutral’ Spanish has also been called a ‘neutral international’ Spanish.

Perhaps most countries in Latin America will say that theirs is the most ‘neutral’ Spanish and that they definitely do not have an accent. What the industry usually calls ‘neutral’ is basically a Spanish which is quite crisp and understandable across different countries. Also, it is a Spanish unfettered by slang or accents which may perhaps go too fast.

Latin Americans will point out, and with absolute accuracy, that a cartoon dubbed in these two types of Spanish has an accent: that of Mexico City or that of Bogotá. Bogotá Spanish has often been described as having a ‘sing-song’ quality to it and Mexican Spanish, although in many ways similar, is immediately recognizable because it seems to be fuller, livelier, even energetic.

Interestingly, the debate does not end there. Even Bogotá Spanish is considered by professionals in Mexico to have too much of an accent. Colombian ‘telenovela’ (soap opera) actors, often go to Mexico or Miami, for work. There, they must learn a ‘neutral’ accent, akin to Mexico City Spanish and slightly different to their Colombian Spanish. When they go back to Colombia, they must revert to their normal accent, lest they sound ‘too Mexican’ for Colombian audiences.

The Process of Dubbing

Dubbing is a process, seldom limited to the act of recording voices in a studio. There is a procedure which will usually go something like this:

Translating the Screenplay:

This is the first step to achieve a quality dubbing. In the case of anime, it must be translated from Japanese to Spanish. This implies several challenges. For one, the translator must be an expert in both languages. Also, it is important that this person know the particular anime and hopefully be a fan of anime in general.

Adapting and Localizing It:

When there is a fully translated screenplay efforts must be made to adapt the dialogue to the local audience. This is called localizing the dialogue. This is the reason why Mexico is usually in charge of dubbing for Latin America and Spain dubs for their own market and in their own way. The challenge here is to avoid changing the screenplay; the idea is to lightly brush it up, so to speak, for a particular Spanish-speaking market.

Another challenge is fitting the newly translated dialogue to the characters on-screen. Japanese in anime is sometimes spoken fast and a Spanish voice over must be able to fit into the finite time-frame on the screen.

Dubbing and Recording:

Now that there is a translated, and if need be localized screenplay, the dubbing and recording begin in earnest. Actors must be auditioned and cast. Thereafter they must dub every line in the script in sessions which are often quite grueling and difficult. Anime, for instance, features tremendous amounts of screaming. Voice talent must dub all this content and do it with a modicum of safety in their voice use.

Examples of Spanish Voice Overs

The Simpsons

The Simpsons is a great example of Spanish voice overs. There are two Spanish versions of this show: one for Spain and one for Latin America.

The first obvious difference is in the accents. The Spain version uses a Castilian accent. The Latin American version uses a standard ‘neutral’ Mexican Spanish.

Spain retains a lot of original character names. The Latin American version, on the other hand, likes to translate names. Thus, in that version, Chief Wiggum is ‘Jefe Gorgory’, Ralph Wiggum is ‘Ralf/Rafa Gorgory’, Reverend Lovejoy is ‘Reverendo Alegría’ and Mayor Diamond is ‘Alcalde Diamante’.

Interestingly, Bart’s catchphrase “¡Ay, Caramba!” exists in the original English version and is not a creation of the Spanish dubbing. In fact, the Spanish version simply retains this same expression.

Top Cat

Top Cat was a TV series with moderate success in the United States. It is, however, one of the most successful cartoons ever, in Mexico and in other countries like Chile, Peru and Argentina. This is due largely to a very good Mexican dubbing, which captured the attention of the Spanish-speaking audience.

Top Cat is still a beloved and famous cartoon, with a wide audience in Mexico. In 2011, ‘Top Cat: The Movie’ was released as an Argentine-Mexican production. In 2015, a prequel titled ‘Top Cat Begins’ was released as an Indian-Mexican production.


Actors in Spanish Voice Overs

Just like their English-speaking counterparts, some Spanish voice over actors have achieved fame and recognition. Here are a few of them.

Carlos Revilla

Born in Salamanca, Spain, Carlos Revilla was the voice actor responsible for dubbing Homer Simpson in the Spain version of the show.

Revilla was first a radio actor and eventually moved into dubbing films into Spanish. He worked on the first eleven season of The Simpsons, with great success: FOX once named the Spain dubbing the best in Europe.

Humberto Vélez

Humberto Vélez was the voice actor in charge of dubbing Homer Simpson (‘Homero Simpson’) in Mexico. He did this from Season 1 to Season 15, until a labor dispute resulted in a whole new voice acting cast.

Gabriel Chávez

Born in Mexico City in 1946, to humble origins, Chávez started voice acting early. He was the voice behind Mr. Burns in the Mexican dub of The Simpsons. His run in the show also ended due to the labor dispute that changed Humberto Vélez and much of the original main cast.

He has dubbed other emblematic characters throughout his career, such as the Cigarette Smoking Man in The X-Files and Ed Bighead in Rocko’s Modern Life.

Cristina Hernández

Cristina Hernández is a Mexican voice actress with an imposing resume. She has dubbed anime extensively, including work in huge series like Pokémon and Dragon Ball.

She has also become the go-to actress when dubbing Hollywood stars like Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Christina Ricci, Reese Witherspoon, Lindsay Lohan, Kate Mara and many others.

Liliana Barba

Liliana is a Mexican voice actress with a long list of credits. She has dubbed a great number of characters such as Chuckie Finster (‘Carlitos Finster’) in ‘Rugrats’ and Kyle Broflovski in ‘Southpark’.

She continues to be a voice actress in great demand, working in dubbing and most other forms of Spanish voice overs.


Online Spanish Voice Overs: The Future of the Industry

The major centers for Spanish voice overs are certainly Spain and Mexico. The future, however, will probably make more use of technology which creates a quality voice over using Spanish-speaking talent remotely.

There is no reason not to make simple Spanish voice overs remotely such as narration, voiceover translation, announcements or radio and audio ads.

More complex projects, however, could also be done exclusively online. Dubbing is perhaps the most arduous of such undertakings, but not outside the realm of possibility, even at feature-film length.

The Gist of It

Voice over is a technique where a voice is added to existing content, creating a vast range of things: narration, voiceover translation, announcements, and radio and audio ads.

It is worth examining voice over and dubbing together because they are usually linked in the Spanish market.

The major centers for Spanish voice overs are certainly Spain and Mexico. The future will probably make more use of technology, creating Spanish voice overs remotely, including dubbing.