The growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S. (17.4% of the population in 2014) has brought with it an increased demand for Spanish and bilingual content in all genres of voiceover, from commercials and explainer videos to Elearning, corporate narration, promos and more. And the increase in demand has brought an expansion of VO talent offering services in Spanish, from eloquent native speakers to people who took a little Spanish in high school.
I think anyone serious about doing Spanish or English-Spanish bilingual voiceover work would agree that a person shouldn’t sell themselves as Spanish-speaking talent if they’re not able to speak the language fluently, expressively and with an impeccable accent. In this regard, there are obvious advantages to hiring talent who were born and educated in a Spanish-speaking country.
But it’s not an absolute necessity. There are U.S. born Spanish speakers who are completely bilingual – native speakers of both English and Spanish, and able to switch effortlessly between the two.
Fully Bilingual = Value Added
In my career as a bilingual voice actor, my standard when voicing in Spanish is exactly the same as in English: perfect, native pronunciation and expression. I find that sometimes being a native English speaker is as important as being a native Spanish speaker. Being fully bilingual has its advantages.
- It’s important to recognize a bad translation and to be able to make suggestions for correcting it. Sometimes English expressions are translated directly into Spanish; being familiar with the colloquialisms in English can make it easier to find the best way to express them in Spanish.
- Some translation problems are due to grammatical errors or ambiguities in the source text. Having a complete command of written English makes these errors easy to recognize and correct.
- In overdubs, translation errors can be due to the translator having misunderstood spoken English words due to the speaker’s accent or dialect. Being a native speaker of English enables me to understand many different accents (although I still watch “Masterpiece Theatre” with the subtitles on!)
- For projects that need to fit into a specified duration, having a full command of both languages makes it easier to adjust translations to fit in time and still retain the meaning of the source copy.
- It’s an extra perk for the client to be able to use the same voice in English and Spanish, and for both to sound natural and conversational.
Quality is What Matters
Given the number of Spanish-speakers in the United States, and as a matter of principle, the standards for Spanish and bilingual voiceover should be every bit as high as they are for English. For producers of content in Spanish, as in English, it’s important to find voice talent that speaks the language perfectly, whether that talent is “domestic” or ”imported”. There are two sides to “bilingual”. In some projects, mastery of English may be just as important as mastery of Spanish.