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5 things you need from professional subtitling services

In the age of auto-subtitles on platforms like YouTube, it’s easy to forget the amount of work that goes into creating professional subtitles. However, there’s a big difference between someone watching a causal video on YouTube and a potential customer watching one of your sales pitches or a foreign-speaking audience seeing your new ad for the first time.

When you need your audience to understand the exact message in your content, you need the professional standard in subtitling services – but what separates auto-generated subs from the industry standard? Here are five key things you should demand from any professional subtitling service.

What makes a professional subtitling service?

If you’re in the market for some professional subtitling services, your list of requirements can vary based on numerous factors: are you looking for English-only subs or foreign-language subs, how complex is the dialogue in your content, how good is the sound quality of your source content, etc.?

However, there are five key things you need from professional subs, regardless of the specifics:

  1. Accuracy: Above all, you want subtitles that are 100% accurate to your content and achieving this can require a number of language and multimedia experts (transcribers, translators, video editors, etc.) and, of course, proofreaders to make sure every subtitle is accurate.
  2. Transcription: In most cases, professional subtitling starts with professional transcription – the process of converting spoken dialogue into text format. This becomes more challenging if you don’t have a transcript or the dialogue in your content is interrupted by background noise, multiple speakers, low-quality recordings and numerous other potential obstacles.
  3. Clarity: The goal with subtitles is to help audiences understand your content, possibly in other languages or in situations where they can’t hear the dialogue in your content. Either way, every decision made while subtitling your content should be made with clarity in mind – from the wording used in translation to the fonts/text size and placement of subtitles on the screen (among many other things).
  4. Readability: Subtitles must be readable and, aside from visibility (text size, font choice, placement, text colour, contrast, etc.), pacing is one of the biggest challenges with subtitling. Your viewers can only read so quickly and ensuring subtitles remain on screen for long enough can be particularly difficult with fast-paced dialogue or multiple people speaking at the same time.
  5. Deliverable: Your subtitles need to be available in the file formats required for your medium and the platforms you intend to publish on.

For some projects, achieving those five key requirements can be difficult – for example, translating a heated debate between multiple speakers who are interrupting each other mid-sentence. This is why it’s so important to have the right pros on your side, which can often include an entire team of language and editing experts.

Subtitles vs captions and voiceovers

Something else you’ll need from your team of language experts is advice on when to use subtitles, closed captions and voiceovers. Subtitles provide text for spoken dialogue but, in some cases, you may need to communicate additional information, such as non-spoken audio that’s relevant to audiences.

A common example is when a phone rings in a film and the caption [phone rings] appears on-screen. This is called closed captioning, which provides text descriptions of non-verbal sounds in your video.

If translation is your main aim, there are also instances where using voiceovers will be more suitable than subtitles. For example, subtitle text might be too long to fit on the screen or speakers may be talking too quickly. Or it could simply be that placing subtitles on the screen takes viewer attention away from important visual elements of your content.

Regardless of what your subtitling objectives may be, the five key requirements we’ve outlined in this article should be delivered on every project. The difficulty of achieving this can vary from one project to another but this is what you’re paying for when you buy into professional subtitling services – so don’t make any compromises on these.

Likewise, you should also feel comfortable that you’re going to get reliable advice from your agency/team. Speaking of which, you can always get in touch with our team of subtitle experts if you have any questions about the best approach for your content – either on social media or by giving us a call.

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