Author: Fardous Bahbouh
I have been doing voice-over (VO) work for a few years, and I love it. It is fun, creative and well paid. I believe it could make a valuable addition to any linguist’s career, especially given that there is a high demand for linguistic skills and special accents in the VO market. For me, it is like interpreting without the need to come up with the right equivalence on the spot; and like acting without the need to memorise the lines.
VO is all around us – from the interactive voice response on the phone to radio, TV and the internet. It can be in the form of dubbed programmes, animations, e-learning, audio books, commercials, educational materials and video games. The gaming industry is worth more than the film and music industries combined.
You might wonder who can work in VO. If you are a linguist who can function in more than one language, you already have a big advantage. However, you still need to add other ingredients, such as knowledge of the industry, continuous practice, business skills, investment of time and money, and luck. In addition, natural talents are always a plus.
You can start by using free online resources to learn more about the profession. You can try recording yourself on your phone copying TV advert scripts or reading a favourite book aloud. You also need to improve your performance skills and get to know your instrument: your vocal tract. You need to understand the text and context, and have the ability to communicate meanings and emotions. I recommend acting and improvisation classes; they helped me a lot.
To launch a VO career, you will need a professional demo, which is your calling card in the industry. As a beginner, you do not need to spend a fortune on it, but be prepared to spend £150-£300. Keep it short and select reads that are in keeping with the work you hope to do. A home studio is now expected. You can set up a basic studio in a quiet area of your home using free software such as Audacity and a microphone, and upgrade it as the workflow increases.
You also need good business skills including marketing, client management, customer services and pricing skills.  Many of these skills you would have already developed through working a freelance linguist and consultant. You can find work through VO agents, language agencies, production companies, pay-to-play sites, local businesses, radio and TV, direct clients, and other linguists and VO artists.
VO is an exciting and rewarding field. It enables linguists to utilise technology in order to create new sources of work and income, at a time when some feel that traditional language professions are threatened by the advancement in technology.
An earlier version of this article appeared in the journal “The Linguist” based on a  talk Fardous gave at the Chartered Institute of Linguists.

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