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Written by Billy McCaw
on July 09, 2021

We’ve all used roadmaps at one point or another to find our way around unfamiliar places. When it comes to voice-over scripts, it’s all-too-easy for native language-speaking voice actors to lose their way due to unfamiliar words and foreign terms. That’s where a pronunciation guide comes in handy.

Think of the pronunciation guide as a roadmap that tells your clients and their voice talent how to best navigate the script and deliver a high-quality product. Pronunciation guides give you a powerful tool that helps prevent costly mistakes while keeping your projects on track. Follow along with us as we dive into the makings of a pronunciation guide and share wisdom on how you can create and improve your own.

Why Create a Pronunciation Guide?

Except for certain voice-over projects using non-native talent, the typical voice talent is likely to be a native language speaker who understands the importance of delivering a quality output, but is also unlikely to be familiar with certain non-native words and terms. Certain words may not directly translate to the voice talent’s or the target audience’s native language, which makes vocally navigating certain terms and phrases a challenge for voice talent.

Unfortunately, any mispronunciations caused by misunderstandings in the script can lead to mistakes that must be re-recorded. Such unnecessary retakes that cost clients time and expense, and even result in budget overruns that jeopardize the entire project.

The best practice for overcoming this issue involves creating a detailed guide on how to tackle unfamiliar terminology. Not everyone is likely to be an expert on the subject matter covered in a typical voice-over project. A successful pronunciation guide accounts for that, making it easier for voice talent to strike the right tone and deliver great work. It also prevents voice talent and others from being embarrassed by or held liable for any mispronunciations.

 

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What to Include in Your Pronunciation guide

Preparation and prevention should be key focal points for any pronunciation guide. That means including detailed advice on how to pronounce certain words and whether the voice talent should use their native language or foreign language to make said pronunciation. Not only should your pronunciation guide include examples that sound out the syllables for the benefit of clients and voice talent, but also a style guide to ensure proper delivery in the desired voice.

There are many other considerations and outliers worth including in your pronunciation guide, such as:

  • Acronyms – Make sure your pronunciation guide offers guidance on how voice talent should approach acronyms. Specify whether it’s appropriate to read the entire acronym as a whole word or to spell it out letter-by-letter, as well as the appropriate language to pronounce said acronym.
  • Foreign Terms – When it comes to words and phrases outside of the talent’s mother tongue, consider whether those words should be pronounced as how the talent would normally in their mother tongue or the foreign language.
  • Numbers – If the script includes telephone numbers, monetary amounts or a long string of numbers, consider how you want the voice talent to read them. There are plenty of different approaches to take, so make sure all of the desired variations are covered. Your pronunciation guide should also include guidance on how to correctly pronounce fractions, decimals and dates.
  • Trademarks – Consider if brand names, trademarks and other intellectual property should be pronounced in the voice talent’s native language or the brand’s native language.

Consider an Audio Pronunciation Guide for Highly Technical Scripts

For highly technical and complex terms, including scientific words and corporate acronyms, audio pronunciation guides are invaluable for helping clients and voice-over actors deliver the correct pronunciation in the appropriate voice. Audio files containing the correct pronunciations for a set of given words can be pre-recorded by the voice talent or by someone familiar with the project and the terms included in the guide.

You don’t need a professional studio just to create a batch of audio files for your supplemental guide. Audio files can be recorded anywhere using a simple mobile voice recorder, or a mobile device like a phone or tablet.

The quality of the audio pronunciation guide itself isn’t as important as the correct pronunciation of the terms in the audio files, so you shouldn’t have any worries about production quality.

 

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Phonetic Spellings

One way to create a pronunciation guide is to use phonetic spellings that approximate the sounds. The first step in using phonetic spellings to create a pronunciation guide is to develop a key.

The Key

The key will include vowels and consonants, then show how they are written in a particular language. For example, in English, the vowel "a" can be pronounced in several ways. The key might specify that when the sound is similar to that of apple or bat, it will be phonetically written as "a." When the sound is similar to that of "father,"  it will be written as "ah." The key would cover all the vowels, as well as all the consonants or consonant pairs that potentially can be tricky, such as "g" or "ch." 

You might denote syllables by using a dash and the accented syllables by using capital letters. Your key reflects whatever you decide.

Spelling

Once the key has been developed, you spell out words phonetically based upon the key. 

For example, the Irish word "Mairead" would be written “much-reyd.”  Or, the Irish word "Shamus," written as  “SHEY-mus.”

Various tools exist to help you write words phonetically. Machines also can store pronunciations. People, however, must teach the machines by building up a base of pronunciations, just as machines need a termbase when translating words.

International Phonetic Alphabet

Another way to develop a pronunciation guide is to use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The IPA makes up all the speech sounds that humans can produce in any of the world's languages. English has a very complex vowel system, for example, and the IPA has developed a vowel chart that shows ranges of the opening of the vocal tract, the position of the tongue, and whether lips are spread or rounded when pronouncing the vowel.

IPA also has symbols for consonants and consonant pairs. For example, the "th" in "Heather" is pronounced differently than the "th" in Katherine. IPA has two different symbols, one based on the Greek alphabet, for each sound.

Linguists use the IPA to convey speech sounds rather than language-specific phonetic spellings.

Regional Differences

You'll want to pronounce the words correctly based on the language. For example, if the word is "Walter" and you are speaking about a German in German, you'll pronounce the word the German way, " VAL-tah."

One challenge, however, is that words are not always pronounced the same way in the same language, even within the same country. For example, an English speaker in the Northern United States might say "ring" with the vowel sounding the same as in rig. However, a Southern U.S. English speaker might pronounce "ring" as "reen" with the vowel sounding as it does in green. Thus, developing a pronunciation guide that is relevant not only to the country but also to the region is critically important to listener comprehension and engagement.

Practice

Once you've developed a pronunciation guide, you'll write audio scripts using the symbols or phonetic spellings. Then you'll want to do a final review before sending it to the voice actor.

When the voice actor receives the script, they practice reading it several times, including the pronunciations.   A major reason for retakes in video script production is pronunciation problems. Finalizing pronunciation guidelines, reviewing the scripts,  and then practicing the pronunciations ahead of time can save time and money.

 

Tips for Creating the Ideal Pronunciation guide

Know Your Audience

Take a good look at your script not as you or anyone else on your team would look at it, but rather from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the project. In other words, it’s important to put yourselves in the shoes of not just the voice talent, but also the intended audience. From there, you can establish the correct pronunciations that help give the audience a clearer understanding of the subject matter.

Every Detail Matters

Details are the one thing in professional voiceover work that you can never get too much of. Even the most minor details can be of tremendous value for directing voice talent or working with a script consultant. Unfortunately, fear of over-communication is a common stumbling block that prevents clients and companies from understanding what’s required for a successful voice-over.

If there any details that could potentially make your voice-over project a bigger success, then don’t hesitate to share those details with the relevant parties.

Professional Help

Partnering with a language service provider (LSP) can make the process of voiceovers or narration much easier. A language service provider already will have developed a pronunciation guide for most words. They also will have voice actors who are experts at managing the pronunciations. An LSP also can keep your localization and voiceover project moving smoothly and efficiently. The LSP also can provide advice on cultural issues and regional differences in pronunciations.

Andovar is an expert at providing multilingual audio-based solutions. We've worked with some of the world's best-known media brands, including Netflix, Turner, and HP. We can tell your brand story in more than 50 languages, with professional translators and voice actors. We provide solutions for all situations, from simple narration translations for e-learning to complex syllable-by-syllable movie adaptations. You can avoid the management headache of having one LSP for each language. We have affiliate studio partners throughout the world so that we can be your one-stop shop for translations in most languages.

Best of all, we create the pronunciation guides. You don't have to. We also employ bilingual script directors, skilled engineers, and native language speakers. Fill out our online form today. An expert will give you a call promptly to talk about your project. 

Contact Andovar Studios

 

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