Film Translation Study Guide: Purpose, Process, and Facts

Film translation is one of the most entertaining and dynamic types of translation a person can do. So many translators and language specialists dream of having this job. As opposed to the monotonous translation of documents you’re not interested in, film translation opens the door to a creative and unique approach to this job. But is everyone cut out to do it?

If you’re interested in film translation but aren’t sure where to start or what it implies, we’ve got your back. Below, we’ll break down the purpose, process, and facts about the film translation process. Let’s get started!

Film translation studies
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The Purpose of Film Translation

Let’s start by uncovering what the main purpose of film translation is, or simply put, what must the film translator achieve.

Several main requirements have to be met in order for the translation to be considered valid and for the main purpose to be fulfilled. Those include:

  • the translation has to convey the message of the original as close as possible
  • it has to maintain the original tone and style of expression
  • it has to faithfully reflect the characters
  • it has to sound natural

The translation cannot interfere with the original intent of the authors of the movie, and make sure that all their creative and professional nuances are transferred to the translation.

It’s also important that the length of the sentences remains as similar as possible so that the translation can keep up with the original scenes. This is the case with both subtitling and voice-over.

Finally, the ultimate purpose of the translation is to help a film enter a new market and win over an audience from a different country. Therefore, the translator needs to be aware of the audience they’re translating to and pay attention to all the details that they might care for.

The Process of Film Translation

How does a translator approach a new project of film translation? What are the steps that they have to make sure the translation is professionally done?

The process of film translation is so much more than a word-to-word transformation from the source to the target language. Here’s how it should work.

Research & Preparation

To prepare for the process of translating a film, the translator first needs to do some research. They should learn the basic information about the film, including:

  • facts about the author(s)
  • genre
  • plot and main characters
  • target audience
  • trivia

It’s highly recommended that the translator reads the film proposal, sees the movie, and reads the script, even several times before approaching the project. They should also get a copy of the film transcript which is the final stage of their preparation. Once they gather all these materials, they can move on to the next step.

First Draft Translation

The next step is to translate the transcript and have the first version of the translation ready. Why are we calling it the first and not the final? Because there’s going to be editing and rewriting later on.

While doing the first version, the translator needs to:

  • carefully choose words to fit the length of the source text
  • think about the characters’ personality
  • evoke the same emotions as the original

The first draft should cover the biggest part of the job. What’s left is taking care of the details.


Finally, the translator needs to go over the translation and see if there’s any room for improvement and better adaptation. What they’re looking for are tiny translation errors that can change the meaning for the target audience and that the translator may have overseen.

It’s also crucial that the translator chooses how to adapt idioms, local references, and fixed phrases from one language to the other.

Imagine translating “spill the beans’’ literally to Polish, for instance. The target audience would be super confused. This is why the best Polish translator needs to know what similar Polish phrase is best to use in this case.

This kind of localization is a huge part of the film translating process since it separates the great from the good translators.


Finally, the translation needs one last proofreading session before you declare it finished and send it out to your employers. You need to read your translation once again to see if there are any grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes.

Once you make sure that the translated version is completely accurate, your job is finished.

You can use proofreading and editing tools online. Grammarly is one of the leading tools for accuracy checking, but there are others you can check out. Topessaywriting can help you find professional writers who can do this type of check for you.

Interesting Film Translation Facts

You need to be aware of several other important facts about film translation. The first is the difference between film translation for subtitling and voice-over. Here’s what you need to know:

  • voice-over allows more localization and translation adaptation
  • subtitling preserves the original watching experience
  • reading the subtitles can collide with watching the movie, so the translation has to be concise and smartly done

Statistics have shown that the US audience prefers subtitling for dubbing, by 76%. The European audience is slightly different. In France, Italy, Hungary, Germany, and Spain, dubbing is the preferred option for the majority of people.

These are the facts that influence your employer to choose what type of translation will be done.

Final Thoughts

Translating a film is a handful, whether it’s for subtitling or dubbing. The translator needs to do a lot of work before and after doing the translation to make sure the result will be satisfactory. Still, it’s a creative and dynamic job that translators strive for.

Hopefully, we’ve helped you look at the bigger picture of film translation and understand how it’s done. Maybe, we’ve even encouraged you to give this career a chance.

Author’s Bio

Olivia Evans is a language specialist and a blogger. She writes about language learning, translation, teaching, and the advantages of speaking more than your native language.

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