JBI Studios' Blog on Voice-Over, Dubbing, and Multimedia Localization.

The 3 Pronunciation Mistakes that Cause Most Voice-Over Pick-Ups

Pronunciation mistakes are the leading cause of voice-over pick-ups. They’re extremely frustrating to multimedia localization professionals. Even worse, they’re the main reason that voice or dubbing projects go over budget and deliver late. Fortunately, there are processes that you can implement to avoid them.

This post will identify the three pronunciation mistakes that lead to most pick-ups – and how you can avoid them.

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Pronunciation is tricky for foreign-language voice-over

Ensuring correct pronunciation is perhaps the trickiest part of foreign-language voice-over recording and video dubbing – in part because it’s a normal challenge to vocalizing just about any text. For an example, read a news or magazine article aloud. Odds are that you may not know how to say one or two of the words in the text, in particular proper nouns like people’s names. Audio and video localization simply adds another layer of complexity to pronunciation, mainly because corporate and educational translations often retain English loan words or technical terminology.


With this in mind, here are the three most common causes of pronunciation mistakes in foreign-language audio.

1. Acronyms.

Acronyms are difficult to get right because there’s no standard way of saying every single one. Most are pronounced letter-by-letter, but some are pronounced as words. To make matters trickier, acronyms don’t have the same conventions across different languages, and they don’t really exist in languages that don’t have phonetic alphabets – making them particularly tricky when recording Chinese voiceovers, for example. Finally, many organizations have internal acronyms that correspond to departments or policy names. Since it’s implausible that anyone outside the organization would know how those acronyms are said, they can be particularly difficult to get right.

How can you avoid acronym errors? The main tool for getting them right is a comprehensive and thorough pronunciation guideline, which JBI Studios provides on every project. If recording into non-Latin languages, reference audio files are very helpful as well, especially for professional voice-over talents who don’t read English.

2. English-language words pronounced incorrectly – or too well.

As mentioned above, translated scripts are littered with English loan words – everything from industry jargon to brands and proper names. Foreign-language talents have a particularly difficult time with these terms, which will not only be unfamiliar to them, but also possibly in a different alphabet from their own.

At the same time, talents who are fluent in English may pronounce terms too well. It’s counter-intuitive, but this is a very common problem in audio & video localization. Your target audience will have trouble with terms that are pronounced in “perfect English.” They want to hear the terms with a natural, local accent – but pronounced accurately, of course.

How do you get a solid, accurate pronunciation, but with a native target-language accent? For starters, with a native-speaker voiceover director – this is one of the instances in which they’re really critical to a voice over production. Not only will they help the talents pronounce the terms correctly, but they can also ensure consistency across long texts. Of course, JBI Studios provides a director on every session. Also, when going into non-Latin languages, it’s good to transliterate these terms if at all possible, especially for the pronunciation guidelines. This is particularly useful for Japanese voiceover, for example. And finally, it’s good to get reference audio files as well to guide the talents in the studio.

3. Script elements that can’t be read aloud.

Most corporate and e-Learning scripts leverage documents which can include legal disclaimers, procedures and employee manuals. These texts contain many elements that can’t really be read aloud, like text shortcuts, phrase abbreviations, or even tables. Nobody thinks twice when they read “e.g.” or “i.e.” in a sentence, but these kinds of elements trip up voice talents all the time – especially since it’s difficult to foresee how they’ll be translated.

How can you avoid these issues? Make sure that your script is ready to be read aloud. Change text elements like “e.g.” to “for example.” Write out numbers and codes whenever possible. Convert tables into sets of sentences. And, once done, read your scripts out loud to make sure you can vocalize them straight through, without pause or hesitation.

Pronunciation guidelines, reference audio, directors & QA

These three types of errors aren’t comprehensive, but they’re a good start to get you thinking about all the pronunciation issues that can come up during recording. Ultimately, though, the best way to avoid errors in your audio is by making sure you take the time for a proper project setup. That means recording reference audio for any loan terms in the translations, and making sure that your pronunciation guidelines are filled out as thoroughly as possible. And of course, ensuring that you have a native-speaker director and a thorough quality assurance process during production. All of these elements are part of JBI’s standard production workflow – and they’re the only way to ensure the high quality, native fluency and accuracy of your multimedia localization project.

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Topics: Voice-over & Audio

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