Someone wise said, “Sprachen sind die Archive der Geschichte.” The quote, translated, explains that language is an archive of history. Originating from mythical eras 2,500 years ago, the German language is now the second most spoken language in Europe, right after Russian. On a global scale, it’s ranked number 10. It is no wonder the demand for German voice overs has been increasing over the years. That goes especially for the sector of entertainment and advertising.
Are you looking to penetrate the European market? If so, you must be considering integrating German voice overs as part of your localization campaigns. Indeed, they are the confluence that bridges the northern hemisphere to the south. Cultures, knowledge, and businesses are share through means of such voice over translations. With the age-old German language, also known as Deutsch, evolving over millenniums, we now have a myriad of dialects and accents. Ones that emerge from different corners of Europe. Choosing the perfect voice talent is hence not just about voice quality and the general language capability. It lies in minute details of selecting one who speaks with the right accent, dialect, and language variation.
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This post was updated in May 2021
The Applications of German Voice Overs
While we soak up the culture of pretzels, beer, and German cheers, let’s not forget that Deutsch is spoken in not just Germany. German voice overs are therefore an extremely crucial tool in reaching the 16% of German speakers in the EU. Voice over applications are boundless and can be employed for the below examples:
- E-learning materials
- Television commercials
- Software & applications
- Internet videos
- Corporate promotional materials
- Film and documentaries
- Training Materials
Truth be told, the internet offers a variety of text to speech tools. But let’s be honest, nothing sounds more naturally human than an actual human being! Such tools might be useful for informal voice over purposes. But if you’re looking to globalize your brand reputation, it’s probably best not to sound like R2D2 or Robocop!
German Voice Overs in Localisation
Globalization has swept away all barriers in the realm of ideologies, business, and media. But localization is the key to unlocking that door to brand credibility and trust. Let’s look at the three core elements that justify your incorporation of German voice overs in your localization blueprint:
The European World
There are approximately 130 million people who speak the German language in the world. Of that, there are six countries in which Deutsch is an official language. Germany aside, they are Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein. Naturally, Germany holds the highest number of more than 80 million speakers, followed by Austria with approximately 8 million. That doesn’t even include the 10 other countries that recognize Deutsch as an official minority language. These countries include Italy, France, Hungary, Denmark, Poland, Russia, Romania, Vatican City, Slovakia and last but not least, Czech Republic.
Wer eine sprache nicht versteht, versteht auch kein volk! Translated, the sentence means that whoever doesn’t understand the language, does not understand the people. No matter your mission, speaking the language right is paramount. You need to know your audience and target segment, especially in the marketing industry.
Millenniums old from medieval times to modern-day, German has evolved just like all languages have. Today, the West Germanic language originating from Indo-European languages is spoken in Central Europe. There are however a whopping 250 German dialects spoken throughout Europe, and even within different regions of Germany itself. This is why understanding the language is so important in localization. German voice overs with the right dialect and accent can help channel your message’s authenticity and communicate more intimately with your regional audience. This includes radio ads, audiobooks, and learning materials. General materials that are accessed every day in the common lives of people.
The Corporate World
Now let’s look into why German voice overs are an important localization tool in the business landscape. First and foremost, Germany ranks fourth in the world’s national economy. That and the fact that it leads the European Union in both economic and political power. Then there are other German-speaking countries such as Switzerland which is home to fifteen global Fortune 500 companies today. And, Luxembourg with a GDP capita three times higher than the European average. The list goes on, really.
If you are looking into expanding into Europe, stable economies as such make them untapped golden opportunities. But like with everything in life, if you want to play the game, you have to know the rules. And in the world of business expansion, localization is everything. Poll numbers show that 42% of Europeans only buy from platforms marketed in their native language. Another showed that 55% of consumers worldwide are more likely to buy a product marketed in their language. German voice overs are hence the key that will unlock the door to new thriving markets in the EU. So get your game on and start investing in voice over projects.
The Media World
Germans love dubbing. Period. In case you don’t know what that is, dubbing is the replacement of original audio dialogue from one language to another. Used in films, dubbing is a form of German voice over that requires lip-syncing of the audio with the characters on screen.
In fact, Germans are so successful in dubbing that they’ve even held a black-tie event, the German Dubbing Awards, in Berlin just this year. The event commemorated the unsung heroes in the shadows who brought award-winning films such as “A Star is Born” and the “Game of Thrones” series into the region. Apparently, the preference of voice overs doesn’t come from a lack in linguistic abilities, but more so an ever-growing popular trend in the acceptance of dubbing over subtitling. A preference ranked higher than any other country in Europe. Dubbing thus increases international media exposure. It has opened a whole new landscape of entertainment accessibility to German speakers. If you are in the show business, movies or television, its high time to consider reaching your viewers on the other side of the world with German dubbing!
German Voice Stereotypes
Deutsch sounds harsh, angry and just plain mean! Ja oder nein? (yes or no?) Despite bordering on France, the country that’s known to speak the language of love, Germany seems to have quite the opposite connotation. Perhaps the reputation was born from Hitler’s speeches, ringing through countless world war documentaries aired around the globe. Or popularized with the hilarious German imitations of many comedians worldwide, such as Trevor Noah in this one. Mayhap the mother tongue of Beethoven and Bach might less romantic-sounding than their musical masterpieces. But modern-day Deutsch has greatly mellowed even though the stereotype has stuck. One will know after spending some time in Germany.
Another thing non-speakers like to poke fun at is the length of Deutsch words such as “Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz”. (Don’t bother counting. It’s 63 letters long.) We kid you not! That is actually a single Deutch word! Awarded “German Word of the Year” in 1999 by the German Language Society, it translates to “beef labeling law regulations” for the purpose of the monitoring of mad cow disease. The word today has however been dropped by the law. (We’re guessing its due to its difficulty of fitting into a news headline!) But mope not of its demise, it has since been replaced by a new law known as “Landesverordnung über die Zuständigkeiten für die Überwachung der Rind-und Kalbfleischetikettierung”. A mouthful of words covering laws on the responsibility of beef and veal labeling.
The Basic Elements of Voice Overs
Expressive voice qualities, flawless enunciation, voice clarity, and speech rhythm are the prerequisites of any polished voice over. However, executing a voice over in a foreign language can be challenging if you don’t speak German. Here are some elements that you should probably look out for.
Dialects, not to be confused, are a subset form of language. Let’s draw a clear line here. Accents refer only to pronunciation and tonality. Meanwhile, dialects include grammar and vocabulary. Both accents and dialects in German voice overs build bridges towards effective emotional and trustworthy communication with the audience. They subconsciously and psychologically affect how your message is received by your target segment.
Looking to “infiltrate” Germany? You should know within Deutschland itself, there are three distinct German dialect groups: the low, central and high. Within these emerge subgroups such as Low Saxon, West and East German, North Upper German and so on. These regions contribute to over 30 dialects within Germany itself! That’s excluding the hundreds of other dialects such as ones in Austria or Argentina. Here’s a simple breakdown on regions just so you know. We bet your head’s whirling a little right now! But fret not, we’ll help you manage your German voice over by the end of this article!
If we look outside of Germany, here’s a list of dialects spoken in different countries:
Toh-may-toh or toh-mah-toh? Let’s take a simple example of the English language to demonstrate the power of accents. If your audience are Wall Street professionals, using voice actors with an Alabama accent will simply just not jive with NYC’s cosmopolitan feel. Neither will it appeal to your target audience.
Now let’s talk German accents and here’s an example of how different they can be. The Badisch accent pronounces the sharp sounding “st” like a soft “sch” So “fest” becomes “fescht”. Don’t end up speaking German that the Germans don’t understand! Also, if you are doing a voice over for let’s say Austria, you might be preaching to a less receptive crowd.
Accents are like the fingerprints of regional communication. They are the tone and pronunciation of a language originating from a particular nation or locality. People who live, breathe and eat a particular language every day acquire a hyper-local sensitivity to the accent. Some might even be able to identify which region you’re from just by listening to yours. Just like the nature of all human beings, it is typical for everyone to have stereotypes or thoughts of other regions or countries. Ask any German national and they’ll swear by the high-quality superiority of any product made in Deutschland! Obviously, other regions might feel the same about theirs. Using the right accents for German voice overs can, therefore, be beneficial in developing credibility and authenticity with an input of accurate culture, colloquialism, and language in your global expansion.
So we’ve gone over the stereotypes of the German voice. But with that, how would you know if you were on the right track? If you are executing projects on German voice overs but don’t speak the language, it’s always good to start with listening. Such could be something as simple as watching a film on Netflix in German with subtitles. Unless you’re portraying your voice over content with more aggressive intent, it should never sound like its stereotype! Remember, the language is notorious for containing long, long, long words. Finding a polished native speaking voice talent with good speech pacing, rhythm, expression, and pauses is important for any German voice over projects.
By and Large
So you ask, “I’m mindblown! Do I really have to fuss about dialects and accents?” That especially after looking at this:
A SIMPLE TRANSLATION: English: Potato Swiss / Standard German: Kartoffel Austrian German: Erdapfel
To explain in short, even though Austrians have a different word, more than half of them understand “Kartoffel”. Truth be told, standard German, or Standarddeutsch, can be sufficient. Although the standard German for every country is different, they are somewhat similar with a few exceptions. So you shouldn’t have a big problem. That said, why then do we need to invest so much in hiring genuine and region-specific native voice talent for German voice overs?
Wenn die Sprache nicht stimmt, dann ist das, was gesagt wird, nicht das, was gemeint ist. That profoundly means: If the language is not right, what is said is not what is meant. All in all, don’t just communicate. Let your campaign be a dialogue that reaches the hearts and minds of your target audience in the right language. Your marketing objectives should make your audience comfortably and even nostalgically resonate with them.
That said, you can find a voice talent with a perfect native accent, flawless language and a voice profile of your choice simply by outsourcing your German voice over to professionals.
Exceptional professionals who know the difference. Little details make big things happen. Bring your localization game up to “extraordinary”. That is, only if you wish to plot a killer German voice over campaign that’s a shoo-in!