Localizing E-Learning: Pros and Cons of Voice-Over versus Subtitles

92129255Senior Multimedia Engineer at Welocalize, Michael Anderson, looks at the pros and cons of using voice-over and subtitles in localized e-learning materials.

Multimedia is often used extensively in e-learning materials and in some global marketing materials. A key component of any visual or audio content is the use of subtitling or voice-overs to tell the story. Which one you go for will affect the localization process, depending on the audience, course content and locale.

Consider the scenario: Your e-learning course has been built and you are ready to publish. You have on screen text mixed with voice over narrative. Do you choose to localize with a voice-over narrator or use subtitling?

One is not better than the other; however, a few factors come into play when deciding the best route to go.  Here are the various pros and cons of using voice-over versus subtitling for e-learning content:


Recording VO in studio and syncing to source audio track


  • Multilingual voice-overs make localized courses look and sound complete and professional, as if it were built for that locale from scratch.
  • Avoids over-crowding of on screen text and captions.
  • Easy to listen to and follow, therefore e-learning makes more impact.


  • Voice-over can be more expensive than subtitling: voice talents costs, studio costs, engineering syncing costs.
  • Multiple speakers can mean multiple voice talents required which can generate extra cost.
  • Some script translations can result in significant expansions which will need longer syncing and timing.


Adding text to the lower third of the screen that follow along with the [source] narrator


  • Ensures target audience is seeing subtitled content.
  • Does not change the source audio track.
  • Subtitling production is less expensive than voice-over.


  • Additional text added to the screen can cause crowding and with text expansion, the screen gets buried with tons of text.
  • Following subtitles on screen, especially with complex material, can be tricky especially if it is combined with on-screen animation.

To help make the right decision, you need to consider what the key objectives, messages and audiences are for the e-learning course. Welocalize has a global multimedia team, available to analyze the source files and provide advice on whether voice-over or subtitling would be the option for localized versions.

For optimum localization, it is often a good idea to consider localization from the start, at the planning stage. That way, the source content has been developed with localization and translation in mind.



Based in California, Michael Anderson is one of Welocalize’s senior multimedia engineers.

Read more about multimedia and e-learning in the Welocalize whitepaper: Welocalize Ready for Global Learning Guide to Multimedia Localization