Getting Great Subtitles

Subtitles open doors because more people will enjoy your videos. As a translator, I write transcripts used for subtitling. If you need subtitles for your film or video, what should you do?

First, it’s important to understand the difference between subtitles and captions. Let’s look at‘s definition of each:

Captions: “Captions are designed to increase video accessibility for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captions are a transcription, usually word-for-word, of the video’s spoken dialogue, and may not exactly match the pacing of the dialogue or action.” (Captions are often generated by AI.)

Subtitles: “Subtitles are a translated version of a video’s transcription, meant to give the viewer a real-time experience of what is happening on screen….Typically subtitles are intended for use by viewers who do not speak the language used in the video, but who can still hear other sounds, like music, and can tell which person is speaking.”

If you need subtitles for a video, how do you get them? There are three main steps.

First, someone will watch your video and transcribe (write down) the audio. They will usually include time stamps in the transcription. Sometimes a transcription is generated with AI, and a human goes through later to correct errors. Sometimes it is generated only by a human, which costs more but will be more accurate.

Second, that transcription goes to the translator. The translator writes everything in the target language.

In the final step, a professional will use software to input the subtitles. A good subtitling professional will know how to match the target-language dialogue to the pacing of the video so that it flows naturally and matches what’s happening on screen. They rely on the time stamps to help them.

Translating for subtitles can be a lot of fun! I recently wrote the English subtitles for a few episodes of a Spanish-language sitcom called “Todo por Lucy” (“All for Lucy”). It will be available in the United States and Latin America. Inspired by the American show “I Love Lucy”, it stars two well-known Mexican actors: Daniel Tovar as Ricky and Natalia Téllez as Lucy. It’s a fun, lighthearted series, and I was giggling as I worked!

If you hire a translator and/or a video editor for subtitles, make sure to give them as much time as possible to get the job done well. This helps them to avoid errors and make the right language choices. We can all think of times when subtitles miss the mark, resulting in awkward or incorrect meaning. But excellent subtitles make you forget you’re reading subtitles—so you can just enjoy the show!

Published by Alison Trujillo

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