• Ally G.

Trends And Qualifications In The Film Translation Industry

Updated: Jan 7

The global epidemic has changed the face of the entire world but especially increased the need to consume movies and entertainment content. Consumers are streaming more content than ever before because of their confinements to homes.


Image:Gerd Altmann/Pixabay



Film and television have a crucial impact on our life in the 21st century, especially in the age of globalization, when more and more people have access to entertainment from all over the world. This situation requires trained translators to make content accessible to a larger group of people from different countries, languages, and cultures.


Film industry trends

Film translation is a growing industry, and there is more demand for film translators than ever before. This has been evident in the last decade and especially during 2020 as the global epidemic forced social distance and many people stayed at home.


Particularly in places like China, India, and the fast-growing Southeast Asian region, which have thriving film industries and significant demand for imported and exported film and television.


The leading market for the film industry currently is North America, with a box office revenue of 11.32 billion USD in 2019. It is predicted that China’s film revenue will by an enormous grow 91.2 percent from 2018 to 2023. The US, Canadian, Australian, and Swedish markets are also anticipated to grow between 20 and 30 percent in the same period.


With the growth of film industries all over the world, and the revenue of foreign language films increasing, there is a great demand for high-quality translation.



The validity of foreign language film markets was solidified in 2020 when the Korean film Parasite made history, winning 4 Oscars, including the award for best picture. It was also the highest-grossing foreign film in the US, earning $11,278,976 in North America.


Languages used most in movies and TV genres

Across the globe, 81.4% of films have English as one of their main languages. The next most common languages for films are French, Spanish, German, Hindi, Mandarin, and Japanese, with between 12% and 3% of films containing at least a few lines in these languages.



Source credit: stephenfollows.com


European languages like French, German, and Italian are starting to see a decline in film usage. On the flip side, Asian languages such as Mandarin, Korean, and Hindi are experiencing an increase in usage.


Netflix Inc. is planning to double its spending on original content in Asia next year to help stay ahead in a crowded streaming market.

Language usage also varies significantly between genres. Comedy films, for example, account for 43% of films featuring Hindi. Russian and Arabic are conversely least likely to show up in comedy. Japanese is a clear front runner in Animated films, appearing in 23% of US animated film releases. Latin, interestingly, appears most frequently in horror films, despite not being part of the most commonly used film languages. Romance films tend to use Hindi or Italian, while Sci-fi films most often contain dialogue in Russian, Japanese, and Cantonese. War films most often have lines in Arabic or Hebrew, as well as German a little less frequently.


All of these genres present their unique translation issues, and specialized local knowledge is often imperative. In the US, children study US history and tend to have an in-depth understanding of civil wars and important historical figures in American history, but less so of history internationally.


The same is true of most other countries. This can get even trickier with the two world wars because each nation interprets and teaches these events differently from their perspectives.


Translators will need to work harder to deliver their audiences the context and relatable, accurate information to ensure the content resonates with them.

Film and Television Translation is a growing field and with the right, sharpened skills, and qualifications, it can be a lucrative and rewarding career choice. Translating punchlines, catchy phrases, and culturally specific plot can be challenging, and requires a high level of knowledge, particularly for genres of film and television such as war and historical drama.



Film translation qualifications


Despite the popularity of translation apps and programs like google translate, there is still growing demand for professional, qualified, and high-quality translators who are experts in the film industry. Computer programs cannot understand and convey the small, unique nuances of language, and the cultural context specific to each language that can impact the whole meaning. Thus, can spoil and ruin someone's enjoyment of the film.



The first step to becoming a translator in the entertainment industry is to gain A bachelor's degree in translation studies along with proficiency in at least two languages-the source-L1- and the target language-L2. You need an in-depth understanding not only of the vocabulary, grammar rules, and conversational peculiarities.

Many have a bachelor's degree, majoring in a particular language to become a professional translator and build a thriving life career.


You may then choose to pursue an advanced degree in translation because language training alone does not mean you have the specialized skills required to be a great translator.



Image: Mike Palmowski/Unsplash


The American Translators Association (ATA) has a great list of approved schools to help you get the skills you need for translation. ALTA language services published their own list of the best U.S. translation schools.

The best translation study program for you may depend on the language you are studying and your career plans.


To further your competitive advantage, you might wish to pursue a qualification in film or screenwriting. This will ensure that you will be well-acquainted in the film and television content structure and can translate effectively in a way that preserves the original text and the intention of the storyline. A formal qualification in this specific field is not necessary, but it will give you added value and open a lot of doors for you in the film and screenwriting world.


Another skill that you will need to become proficient in is the range of computer programs that professional translators use. These programs make the translation process quicker, more efficient, and saves time and money.

For some jobs, you may need to use the translation program that the client or the team you work with will ask you.


Computer-assisted translation (CAT) software translates one language into another language using translation memory—which stores previously translated words/texts. That way the translator can benefit as he saves a lot of time and the client can get high-quality translated text delivered on time and even saves money.


The following programs are the top 10 CAT tools that every translator should use:

Lokalise, Smartcat, Phrase, Transifex, SDL Trados Studio, Memsource, Crowdin, memoQ translator pro, MateCat, and LingoHub.



How translation impacts films

The translated dialogue while the film is played is the most important because many people can access and watch the film while looking at the subtitles, and when the smallest of mistakes occur, the meaning can be significantly distorted.

There are a wide variety of examples of bad and good translation in the film and television industry.


One interesting translation case study is the Polish translation of the film Shrek.

If you have seen this film, you will know that the plot is largely built around folklore and fairytales. This presents a problem in countries such as Poland, where local folklore is an important part of the culture and is almost entirely different from the folklore in Shrek. If an American viewer were to watch the Polish translation, they may be horrified by lines such as Shrek saying he’d drag Donkey to the meat house and consider it a poor translation because it does not exactly reflect the meaning in English but in fact, it taps into local folklore and allows the local audience to have a unique connection and understanding of the film.


Therefore, the translator needs to be skilled enough to make a cultural adaptation to the target language.

Another, far less successful film translation is the Chinese translation of the film Avengers: Age of Ultron. The translation was widely criticized for being far too literal and negatively affecting the tone of the film. Lines such as “You get hurt, hurt ’em back. You get killed… walk it off” was translated to the far sillier line. “Run fast if someone tries to kill you.” These lines which in English sound bold and heroic are just gibberish in Chinese.


Age of Ultron is just one example of how poor translation can kill the plot of a film and hamper the understanding of the viewers. Even if translations are word-for-word accurate, they may not convey meaning in a way that is understandable for a local audience, which is why not only language but also cultural skills are imperative for great translating.


A great example of film translation earning huge revenues to the filmmakers is the Kung Fu Panda 3 movie which earned the makers more revenue in China than it did in the US where it was originally released.



Apparently, the trend is growing towards globalization, as well as the increasing demand and recognition for international media. Therefore, translation in the field of film and television will continue to be a thriving industry due to the increased demand for these services.




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