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This might seem like a simple question, but I believe the answer isn't so simple. One might think that lines of dialogue are only directly translated, as though the script is run through Google Translate or something, but that's barely the case.

Think of how when you switch between different audio-tracks of the DVD of a foreign-language film, they still line up perfectly. Even though translated text rarely has the same amount of syllables as the original, the dialogue still feels rightly paced, and not awkward.

Even tonally, the dialogue fits the situation and/or the mood of the film. There's an idea that well-known phrases or clever jokes in a given language never translate well into another. Cleverly written dialogue tends to lose its essence. However, this "lost-in-translation" theory doesn't seem to apply for dubbed movies (or at least the ones that are considered "properly dubbed", such as Spirited Away).

If you want dialogue that syncs perfectly with the lips, then you'd have to sacrifice its original essence. And if you care about the original essence, you'd have to trade off the lip-sync.

So how exactly do production companies dub movies into different languages?

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It's not QUITE as difficult as it may first appear. Just as one example, the company that does the English dub for Ranma½ does a remarkable job - translating from Japanese while maintaining lip-sync and staying relatively faithful to the original meaning.

A more entertaining example is the Bad Lip Reading channel on YouTube, which regularly ridicules over-hyped IPs by replacing the dialogue with some of the most outlandish nonsense - while still keeping things in sync, of course.

There are obviously some limitations when one language has a lot of syllables while the other has few, but there are usually several opportunities to fudge things a bit while the speaker's mouth isn't visible - in extreme cases, creative visual editing can glean a handful of extra frames to help hide discrepancies.

Few people realize that this happens even with non-translated movies. A scene is filmed (and cannot be reshot, for whatever reason) then the director decides to change the dialogue. New audio is recorded, available footage is edited to fit accordingly, and only their hairdresser knows for sure that anything had ever been changed!

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