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RECORDING PRESENTATIONS FOR SUBTITLING


- by José Henrique Lamensdorf   


I have seen a specific type of disaster several times, so my intent here is to help avoiding them. The usual story goes like this...

The company spends a bundle to bring in a speaker from abroad, to lecture on something important. In order to make sure that nobody will miss this rare opportunity, simultaneous interpreting is provided, with all the entourage it requires. Furthermore, to ensure the happening and the investment made will continue bearing fruit, it is recorded on video.

I often say that what makes a recording professional is not whether the equipment is impressive or if someone was actually paid to do it, but the final result obtained.

The cheapest alternative to simultaneous interpreting is consecutive interpreting. It somewhat hampers the speaker’s line of thought, as their delivery is successively interrupted to be translated, it annoys bilingual spectators who must hear everything twice, and also monoglot attendees, who spend half the time listening to things they cannot understand. If done to a rehearsed presentation, it tends to be perceived as some cheaper solution to the language problem. Depending on the importance of the event, it may be regarded as inadequate.

Note: No contempt intended to consecutive interpretation is intended here. It has its reason to be. When it’s about a personal statement, either in court or not, any expression that is not a presentation prepared in advance, consecutive interpretation is much better than simultaneous, as it leaves the bilingual part of the audience in charge of “quality control” for the interpretation work.

Simultaneous interpretation personnel and equipment are expensive. Adding that to the lecturer’s costs (fees, travel expenses, etc.), the venue and all necessary complements (meals, coffee-breaks, etc.), the company – if such events are not part of their core business – will see their budget being quickly depleted and exceeded. As they cannot cut costs after they’ve been incurred, a decision is made to increase the benefits, by recording on video for later distribution.

Recording such an event with broadcast TV quality would cost a fortune. So the most usual solution is to place someone with a camcorder in the audience. Even if it’s a professional piece of equipment, most likely it will have a boom microphone attached to its top. This is very good for close-range interviews, but not for recording lectures in an auditorium.

When the video is finished, the company realizes that the simultaneous interpretation was left there, in that auditorium, in the past. So they decide to have the video translated and subtitled, and send it to a specialized translator like yours truly.

In most of the ones – if not all - I receive, the sound is awful. All that is possible to hear sounds like:

"In the fmfmmfmf two aspects are most important: hmhshfm and bhmfmnhm." All this interspersed with the sound of footsteps, chairs being dragged, people clearing their throat or coughing, side conversations close to the microphone, and even some leakage from the adjoining interpreters' enclosure.

In a nutshell, mission: impossible.

Another issue is the translator’s specialty area. As the simultaneous interpreter won’t have much time to think while performing their job, in most cases they will:

  • be a specialist in the subject

  • have received a script in advance, to research terminology

  • have been trained about the presentation

  • have been provided with glossaries on the subject matter.


Translation is a profession characterized by specialization from various independent and mutually excluding stances.

The first one, obviously, is the language pair. There is no point in having a translator or interpreter for French, if the presentation will be made in English.

The second is the type of work: translation (written text), interpretation (spoken words), or video (from spoken words into written text). There are professionals who provide one, two, or all these types of service.

The third is the specialty area, in terms of subject matter, for instance, telecom, medicine, finance, management, etc. Of course there are ‘general’ themes that any translator can handle, however this is rare in the kind of presentations we are considering here.

These aspects and options are just part of the whole array of possibilities, however it would be increasingly difficult to find one same translator matching all the requirements on a larger number of criteria.


How can this video translation and subtitling problem be solved?

The first criterion may be immediately discarded, as usually there is no way to change neither the speaker’s nor the audience's language, and consequently the translator or interpreter’s language pair.

The second one may be solved by providing the translator with a clear audio recording. If the video recording equipment has an auxiliary audio input (LINE IN), it is possible to tap the signal directly from the PA system that feeds the simultaneous interpreting enclosure. This will provide direct audio from the lecturer’s microphone, free from surrounding noise. Alternatively, an audio-only recording may be made, either digital or analog (= on tape), either from the PA system or the simultaneous interpreting equipment.

Finally, the third one may be solved by providing the video translator – not necessarily specialized in the presentation subject – access to the outcome of all the preparation given to the simultaneous interpreter. How can this be accomplished? By means of a stereo (2 channels) recording, either on the video itself or on the supplemental audio recording, the sound from the lecturer in one channel, and the interpreter’s in the other. Both signals are available from the equipment in the interpretation enclosure, and two inexpensive cables will make the connection.

If the video recording equipment has no auxiliary audio input connection, it may be possible to re-sync the complementary audio recording, obtaining a video with much better sound quality than what would be obtained with direct sound (a camera-mounted boom mike).

The simultaneous interpreter, upon the awareness that their work will be recorded for later use, may want to charge some additional fee for their performing rights. If such recording were to be placed on the final video, this would be absolutely fair, and should be negotiated.

On the other hand, if such recording will only be used as a reference for subtitling, such additional fee might be challenged, as translation for subtitling requires substantial synthesis. Most certainly, the original simultaneous interpretation will not be transcribed for subtitling.

If these measures are taken, it will be possible to obtain a video, either for online presentation or on DVD, with much better sound, translation, and subtitles.

I don’t offer simultaneous interpretation nor video recording services. I can translate for subtitles between English and Portuguese, subtitle a video, and author DVDs.

I hope the information above helps in preventing people from sending me “mission: impossible” jobs. If you still have any questions, or need some guidance on how to do what I described here, be welcome to contact me by e-mail.



© José Henrique Lamensdorf – Reproduction is authorized, as long as due credit is given to the author, and including the original publication URL.


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