Does The Cut Match The Voice-over & Is The Translation Accurate? : Memmos Along with dates, names and numbers, NPR journalists should add voice-overs to the list of things to double- or triple-check. Audio clips must match translations. Translations must be accurate.
NPR logo Does The Cut Match The Voice-over & Is The Translation Accurate?

Does The Cut Match The Voice-over & Is The Translation Accurate?

It sounds simple: When you put an interpreter's voice over the sound of a non-English speaker, "you never want the translation to be at odds with the original actuality," Jonathan Kern writes in Sound Reporting.

In practice, we sometimes slip. Either we don't start the clip at quite the right place or the interpretation isn't as true to what's been said as it should be.

People who speak the language will notice if things aren't lining up correctly. Then they'll question the accuracy of the rest of a story.

Correspondents and field producers work hard to avoid such mistakes. They include instructions on when to start the clip and what to say in a voice-over. Here's a recent example of how to do it, from a piece by Lucian Kim:

ACT4 <<Irina Tyan. Fade under after the word "biznes." 2 sec.>>

"Dlya ikhnovo gosudarstva etah biznes..."

V/O: "For North Korea it's a business, because all the laborers who work here pay their government so they can be here."

[Note: When interpreting the spoken word, there is room for some ... interpretation. The Russian speaker said "for
them." Listeners might ask, "who's 'them?'" It's clearer, but still true to the meaning of the cut, to say "for North
Korea."]

Let's make voice-overs another part of our work that needs to be double- or triple-checked.

First, if the instructions aren't clear, ask questions.

Jonathan's advice: "When you are in doubt ... always contact the reporter to make sure you're pairing up the right actuality with the right voiceover, and that you're starting the actuality at a logical place."

Then, find another pair of ears. The RAD team maintains a list of NPR staffers who speak languages other than English. It's on our Intranet. Tap their expertise to be sure an interpretation is as good as we can make it and that we've got the clip starting at the right place. You can reach out for help on Slack as well.

For tips on other things that must be double- or triple-checked, see our Accuracy Checklist.

H/T to Alina Selyukh, Alison MacAdam and Kevin Beesley for their help on this.