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Understanding Subtitling and its Role in Translation


What is Captioning?


Before we explore what services we offer in subtitling, allow us to first explain the difference between captioning and subtitling. Captioning is a textual representation of a dialogue and other important audio information on a video clip, movie, live tv, or other visual media.

The objective of captioning is to offer the viewer the ability to fully capture the meaning without audio playing any necessary role. In other words, the goal is to capture the fullest experience possible, as if they were watching with sound, through the visuals on-screen only. These visuals include the original video images plus the captions indicating dialogue, music (especially when it’s being used to set tone or other important information crucial to a full understanding of the scene), and non-speech sounds that are essential to meaning.

Captioning was originally developed for the deaf and people hard of hearing in the 1970s, and by the 1980s they were required for broadcast television in the U.S. Captioning has become popular and helpful for people learning a new language, for noisy environments such as public places and restaurants, and viewers watching shows with different accents or new vocabulary. Captions additionally serve as a transcription of the broadcast audio and increase engagement and information retention of a video.

What is Subtitling?

Subtitling, on the other hand, serves the purpose of translating the original dialogue into a different language. It has been around much longer than captioning, since even in the 1930s, when Hollywood movies were sent abroad, they were subtitling their films to accommodate foreign audiences. Still today, there is a distinction between subtitling and captioning. Subtitling aims to translate the original dialogue into a language or dialect the audience can better understand, but it does not assume audiences are relying on the subtitles to replace the audio experience.


How Does Subtitling Work in Translation?

Adding subtitles to a work is part science and part art. Translating subtitles requires a lot of creativity, intimate knowledge of both the original and target languages, and quick thinking. Subtitles also need to be segmented and synchronized extremely precisely with the audio. Besides being true, timely, and accurate to the dialogue, translation needs to be concise, as it will need to be readable by the viewer in just a few seconds. It also needs to be simple, as to be understood at first sight while watching the film.

Most subtitles need to be localized to accurately convey the meaning in the target market. (Localization is the adaptation of written content to a specific location, region, or market. Localized content reads as if it had been made locally and in-country. For example, in English this may mean localizing subtitles to an Australian audience versus an audience in the United Kingdom.)

Additionally, translation needs to flow with the speaker or voice over, otherwise the timing will be off. If the subtitle appears before or after a key moment, the impact of the message may be lost. Therefore, translators need to carefully take into account the number of characters for each subtitle according to the duration and line length



More About What We Can Offer for Subtitle Translation

We offer subtitling and captioning services (including localization services for specific regions and dialects) for English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and more.

Clients can send us the video script with the corresponding timing and segmentation, or we can prepare the script timing before translating.

We have done subtitles for the health care and medical, financial, and education industries among others. We have covered diverse topics from genetics and special education to plastic surgery. Therefore, we have the language expertise needed to subtitle or caption media from these professional fields accurately.

Some additional best practices we follow here at Language Concepts for both subtitling and captioning:

  • Lines should be broken at natural points. Maximum line length: 47 characters per line. Maximum of two lines of text per subtitle.

  • The text on the screen does not need to be always centered. Place it where it makes sense making sure the viewer can see any on-screen graphics or other important element.

  • We expect reading speeds should be expected at maximum to be 250 words per minute for adult content. We keep in mind what is happening on the screen at the time too, since viewers are processing both the visual information and subtitles or captions all at the same time.

  • The minimum display time should be 1.5 seconds for each dialogue.

For caption or subtitling translation services, get a hold of Language Concepts to be connected with a professional subtitle translator and get started today!



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