If you thought that at LingPerfect, we only dealt with translations, buckle up. The range of content-related services we excel at goes much further. That’s why we decided to write a set of articles that describe all the services we can do for you.
Today’s special: subtitling.
What is subtitling?
Subtitling is the process of adding text to videos to describe what is being said on the screen.
There are a myriad of different types of subtitling formats. Not to vex you with too much detail, here are the two major ones:
- A translation of the audio track (subtitling proper)
- A rendition in the same language meant for the deaf or hard of hearing community (captions).
No big deal, you might say. It’s just an audio transcription or a translation of the same, at most.
Not that elementary, Watson.
The hidden art of (good) subtitling
Spotting high-quality subtitling is hard. Much harder than noticing when something goes awry.
When done well, subtitles feel natural, flow smoothly—they render the message with the right words at the right time. To achieve this, subtitle translators must factor in a variety of aspects.
Spoken and written language are like apples and oranges
We’ve briefly discussed this in our previous article. Spoken language syntax and grammar are quite different from the written form. If the subtitle translator just translated what is being said, the subtitles would often be illegible.
When used in spoken language, false starts, repetitions, and sentence fragments sound natural (and make sense). But when put into writing, they fog out the meaning completely:
I d– I don’t… I mean… haven’t seen him around.
To follow such a thread with your ear is one thing. Reading through 90 minutes of such prattle would probably get you a migraine.
A skilled subtitle translator will convey the meaning from one language to another and transpose the content to comply with the rules of written language.
Space and time restrictions in subtitles
Subtitles have to follow the action and be paced with scene changes. This process is called spotting. There are 24 frames in every second of video. An expert subtitle translator will be able to spot the best frames to start and finish a subtitle caption.
Another thing a subtitle translator must consider is character length. A subtitle can be placed on two lines, at most. Each line can contain a maximum of 35 characters. But the words spoken in that scene can be many more.
Subtitles must therefore be much shorter, yet retain all the meaning from the audio source. It takes exceptional synthesizing skills to do that.
Knowing your audience: localization in subtitling
Imagine you’re watching a Japanese movie, and the character says:
“This sake is delicious. It tempers the strong wasabi we had before.”
Should the subtitle translator keep the sake and wasabi in the English subtitles? Or should they become rice wine and spicy dip? There is no unanimous answer. It depends on the audience, and how well-known the foreign term is in the target culture.
How about subtitling cartoons? A fifth grader’s grammar and vocabulary differ a lot from an adult’s. Unless the cartoon is about spelling bee contests, the language will have to adapt to the level of an eleven-year-old.
Knowing who the subtitle text is meant for makes a world of difference. An expert subtitle translator will be able to navigate through register differences and cultural notions so that the audience will get the most out of its viewing experience.
Why should you care about subtitles even if your surname doesn’t spell Spielberg?
You’re not working in the movie industry, so why bother? Well, here are just a few ways how you can benefit from subtitling your audiovisual content.
- It’s the cheapest way to make your content accessible to other cultures
When compared to dubbing, subtitles come at a fraction of the former’s cost. Talking about other cultures doesn’t mean you’re targeting foreign overseas lands. In the US, over forty percent of the population is native in a language other than English. Subtitling your content will make it more available for the ESL community.
- You’ll make your content more inclusive for native English speakers with disabilities or special needs
Captioning your audio track can help reach a broad spectrum of native English population with ADHD, dyslexia, and autism. The same goes for the deaf or hard of hearing people.
- Search engines will like you more. As will your boss.
If you’re betting on SEO, think seriously about subtitling your videos. Here are some spicy stats:
- An astonishing 85% of Facebook videos are watched without the sound on. According to the social media giant’s data, captioning your video increases the viewing time by 12%.
- A study by PLY media found out that 66% of uncaptioned videos are watched until completion. When captioned, the figure bumps up to over 90%.
- Research by Instapage uncovered that captioned videos earn 15% more shares and 17% better reactions. But most importantly—they get more than 26% of call-to-action clickthroughs.
Whether you’re in airspace or agriculture, captioning your videos will help you reach better results across the board. With our set of expert subtitle translators and years of experience in the field, we’re here to help.
What are you waiting for? Pick up the phone or drop us an email.