Voice over in English, Spanish and French is a tapestry of differences. Indeed, each particular market (be it France, Quebec, the USA, the UK, Latin America or Spain) provides voice over with unique characteristics. This article will seek to examine these peculiarities and their range of effects, on both the industry and the consumers.
First though, let’s begin with some basic definitions on what voice over, dubbing and voice over translation are exactly. With these definitions in mind we can then jump into looking at the voice over industries in these areas of the world in detail and make sense of them.
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This post was updated in May 2021
What is Voice Over?
A succinct definition could be that voice over is basically the voice of someone unseen added to a product that will reach an audience. This can be done on a screen or radio or indeed on several other platforms, such as podcasts. Examples of voice over are radio and audio ads in general, narration in documentaries, voices for trailers, amongst many others.
Dubbing vs. Voice Over
While voice over is basically audio that is added to a product, dubbing is more specific in that it mimics and replaces the voices of actors. Dubbing and voice over are two sides of the same coin, though not quite the same. Some say they are two separate things.
We will look at dubbing and voice over together because the voice over and dubbing industries in the English, French and Spanish-speaking world are inextricably linked.
Dubbing vs. Voice Over Translation
There is an interesting difference between voice over translation and full dubbing. In full dubbing, voice actors will try, as stated, to lip-sync to the actors on-screen and give a full performance that will completely supersede the original voices. In the case of voice over translation, there will simply be a translation on top of the original voices, which are not generally muted.
The main advantage of a voice over translation is that there will be a faster turnover rate and that it is able to preserve the original voices. This is particularly useful in a documentary, for example.
Voice Over in English
Subtitles are not well-liked in America. Live-action films which have been dubbed, however, have rarely done well theatrically in the United States. An interesting exception is Wolfgang Peterson’s ‘Das Boot’, released in 1982. This German film was dubbed into English but, surprisingly, the subtitled version grossed more than the dubbed one.
Anime, on the other hand, is dubbed into English and is successful. Anime would probably be impossible to air with subtitles, given the young audiences who enjoy it and the fast pace and complexity of the stories. The importance of voice actors is thus paramount in dubbing anime for English-speaking audiences and there is a large industry in the United States dubbing this Japanese animation.
The United States is the leading location where anime is dubbed for the English-speaking world; Los Angeles, New York and Texas in general are important locations with a plethora of voice actors hard at work. The process of dubbing, simply explained, would go as follows:
- Translation: The first part is translating the anime script, from Japanese into English. This naturally demands translators who have great cultural knowledge of Japan and who are fans of anime as well.
- Adaptation: Now that there is a translation, this script must be adapted. There are crucial things to take into account: dialogue must fit into the time where characters actually speak on-screen; dialogue must be moved around if necessary so that it sounds natural; plot points and crucial information must be conveyed clearly and not get lost in the process.
- Recording: Here comes the moment for the voice actors to unleash their talent and create anime voice acting with excellence.
Voice Over in English in the UK vs. in America
Sometimes U.S shows are dubbed into ‘British English’, so to speak, when it comes to children’s content. The reason is simply that there are differences in terminology which make it appropriate to have them dubbed and thus have them be more suitable for kids.
It is safe to say, however, that there is not much dubbing of American English into British English or vice versa. In the case of the United Kingdom, the majority of foreign language films are subtitled and it is mostly just animated films or children’s content which is dubbed.
Voice Over in Spanish
The Spanish-speaking world is a huge market. It has over 450 million speakers, primarily in Spain and the Americas. Interestingly, there are about 21 million students of Spanish as a foreign language. In the United States, there are about 38 million people who speak Spanish at home.
There are important differences between Spanish in the Americas and Spanish in Europe which have tremendous effects on voice over. In fact, it is probably correct to divide the voice over industry in the Spanish-speaking world into Latin America and Spain.
Latin America is a vast landmass composed of twenty different countries. In Latin America each country has a different version of Spanish; it is all the same language obviously, but accents and slang vary dramatically. This spells out a particular problem for voice over.
Mexico is one of the prime voice over powerhouses in Latin America and their voice overs and dubbing carry what is considered to be a ‘neutral’ accent. The story of Mexican dubbing begins in 1944, when MGM went to Mexico to look for actors to dub their films. They found a group of talent and took them to New York. That was the beginning of a fruitful partnership which jumpstarted the dubbing industry in Mexico.
Currently, the industry in Mexico is worth nearly 70 million USD per year. There are around 35 dubbing studios, giving jobs to around 1500 actors and generating 1000 direct and 6000 indirect jobs. Mexico represents about 70% of the dubbing that is done worldwide into a neutral Latin American Spanish. Recently though, countries such as Chile, Argentina and Colombia have begun to take a piece of the market as well.
Top Cat was a TV series without much success in the United States, but tremendous success in Mexico. It had an original run of only 30 episodes in the United States, from 1961 to 1962. The show, featuring the antics of a group of Manhattan alley cats, was extremely successful in Mexico due, in large part, to a very good dubbing by Mexican voice actors. Top Cat, complete with this Mexican dubbing, found success and fame in other Latin countries like Chile, Peru and Argentina.
The popularity of Top Cat is still going strong. In 2011, ‘Top Cat: The Movie’ was released, as an Argentine-Mexican production. In 2015, a prequel named ‘Top Cat Begins’ was released as an Indian-Mexican production. The Latin market, it seems, still loves Top Cat.
Mexico is the primary player for the Latin American market, as we have seen, but in Spain things are different. The Spanish market will usually dub other languages into Spanish from Spain, so to speak, and not Latin American Spanish. In fact, the Spanish public prefers dubbing as much as possible, instead of subtitles.
Voice Over in French
The main difference when it comes to voice over in French is the divide between France and Quebec. There has always been a good measure of competition between both industries. Usually, the French have not favored the Quebecois accent dubbings whilst the Quebecois have often felt that there is too much Parisian slang in some dubbings from France.
Quebec and France
Quebec, particularly Montreal, dubs a good amount of films and TV. This industry brings in about $30 million dollars per year and provides around 700 jobs, mostly in Montreal. Although some material is dubbed into Quebec-accented French, it is important to note that in Quebec, actors are able to mimic an ‘international’ French accent. Still, there persists a particular view on dubbing in Quebec which is not quite accurate, since executives in Hollywood believe that dubbing in ‘la belle province’ is not ideal because of their accent and that dubbing in France is still the best option.
A particularly striking detail is that titles of films are usually translated differently in Quebec and France. In France, English titles will sometimes be left untouched, whilst in Quebec, they are completely translated. Take the recent film, from 2017, ‘The Disaster Artist’. In France it retained that very same English title but in Quebec, it was named ‘L’Artiste du Désastre’. The 2007 American comedy ‘Superbad’, was given the title ‘SuperGrave’ in France and ‘SuperMalades’ in Quebec.
The Example of the Simpsons
A great example of the difference between French and Quebecois dubbing is The Simpsons. There are two different Simpsons, one for the French public and another one for the Quebecois public. The French one features mostly Parisian accents whilst the Quebec version features characters with a Quebec accent; indeed, many of them have a heavy Montreal working-class accent known as joual.
Interestingly, this difference is not only noticeable in the accents of the voice actors. There is also a difference in the writing. The Quebecois version for instance, rewrites some jokes, to make them more regionally appropriate.
There is a great example of the collision between these two dubbings which is worth mentioning. In ‘The Crepes of Wrath’, the eleventh episode of The Simpson’s first season, Bart goes to France on a student exchange trip. In the original English episode, Bart learns French. How exactly was this episode dubbed for French-speaking audiences? Seems impossible right?
Well, the solution that the Quebec version came up with was very clever. In the English version, Bart speaks to a police office in English but is not understood and thus can’t ask for help. In the Quebec version, Bart starts speaking to the French police officer in Quebecois slang, and thus can’t be understood. Only when he learns stereotypical Parisian French is he understood by the cop, who helps him and brings the episode to a conclusion, with Bart saving the day.
Online Voice Over and Dubbing Services
As can be gleaned from this article, there are some great locations around the world for voice over in English, Spanish and French. These cities have certainly made their mark. New technologies, however, mean that the internet is providing evermore solutions for quality voice over and dubbing, online and in any language. Bunny Studio is, no doubt, the Top Cat of this scene. This method of working carries certain advantages with it:
- No need for a physical location: As we’ve seen, there are some extraordinary locations where quality voice over and dubbing may be found in English, Spanish and French. New technologies, however, are finding such talent, even for longer projects, online, without having to travel.
- All languages available: Moreover, voice over projects online need not be limited to the language we’ve examined but may be permit for work in all languages as well.
Apart from these two very evident strengths, which clearly stand in contrast to what we’ve seen in this article, there are other points in favor of using an online voice over service as opposed to looking to the physical locations and markets themselves. Evidently, finding voice over in English, Spanish or French, or indeed in any language is going to be less costly online that in the physical location itself, for instance.
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Voice over in English, Spanish and French is varied and each particular market (be it France, Quebec, the USA, the UK, Latin America or Spain) provides voice over with unique characteristics. Dubbing and voice over should be examined together, because the voice over and dubbing industries in the English, French and Spanish speaking world are inextricably linked.
The English market’s strongest feature is anime dubbing. The Spanish market has Mexico as a major player in Latin America. In French, France is the biggest market, though Quebec is still very much in the game.
The future, however, will most likely see the growth of online voice over and dubbing, as an industry not limited by physical location or geography but expansive in its global reach, thanks to technology.