All You Need to Know About Translating Subtitles

Published on November 10th, 2022

translating subtitles

Effective subtitle translation can open your video footage to audiences around the world but delivering immersive viewing experiences in foreign languages isn’t as easy as you might think. In this article, we’ll help you decide whether subtitles are the best video translation solution for your next project. We also look at the key elements needed and discuss step-by-step best practices for translating subtitles of the highest quality.

Subtitle vs other translation options

Before getting into the ins and outs of translating subtitles, it is important to discuss alternative options. Subtitling is one of the most popular methods of translating video content but it is not the only option and it is not always the most suitable option for every scenario.

For the majority of video translation projects, one or several of the following four methods might be required:

  1. Subtitling: This method translates the dialogue in videos and, potentially, any on-screen text that appears in footage.
  2. Closed captions (CC): Aside from translating dialogue, captions also provide contextual information to indicate who is speaking and describe important audio elements such as crowd noises, the sound of traffic, phones ringing, etc.
  3. Voice-overs: This places a translated dialogue track over the top of the original dialogue – commonly used for interviews, documentaries and lifestyle programmes.
  4. Dubbing: This method replaces the original dialogue with new, translated dialogue tracks.

Generally speaking, subtitles are a cost-effective method for translating video content into multiple languages, especially when the aim is to preserve the original dialogue.

Also Read: Subtitling services: five challenges you’ll come across when translating subtitles

Best practices for subtitle translation

Subtitles may be one of the most cost-effective methods of video translation but this does not mean you can afford to get it wrong. Low-quality subtitles can ruin the experience of watching video footage and weaken the impact of the key message.

Below, we indicate some good practices that ensure the delivery of the best possible viewing experience through subtitle translation:

  • Start with transcription: As in transcribe the dialogue of your video into text strings of the same language. Translators can then convert these text strings into each target language.
  • Simplify the wording: Shortening long sentences, words and phrases will help take up less space on screen and significantly reduce reading time.
  • Consider text expansion: Translating English text into most languages usually results in text expansion, meaning the text will take up more space and increase reading time.
  • Consider dialogue speed: Faster dialogue will make it more difficult for viewers to keep up with subtitles and also makes syncing more challenging.
  • Consider in-footage text: Any text that appears in your footage may also need translating, which could clash with dialogue subtitles.
  • Provide context: Translators would need to have access to the original video and need plenty of context so they know exactly what every line of text communicates.
  • Identify overlaps: Where multiple subtitles may appear on the screen at the same time.
  • Think about subtitle placement: Ensure key elements in your footage are visible at all times.
  • Synchronise your subs: Ensure each language version of your subtitles is synched with the dialogue, action and editing of footage.
  • Review each language version: Consider any minor changes required for specific languages. For example, replacing certain words for shorter alternatives where overlaps or synching issues are present.
  • Quality assurance: Implement a final review, editing and proofreading system that delivers consistent quality in every language version. This includes any last-minute changes required.
  • Test on audiences: Before publishing content with translated subtitles, it is worth testing your footage on sample audiences in each language market.

By following these subtitle translation practices, you will likely achieve the same level of quality across every video campaign, in every language version.

Manage subtitle translation projects effectively

Subtitle translation may look simple enough to the people watching your video but this is only true when you get everything right. Effective subtitles immerse viewers in the experience of your footage to the point where they should forget they are even reading subtitles.

Bringing all of the right elements together for successful subtitle translation is not easy. First, you need the right talent on board. Secondly, you will also need footage that is appropriate for subtitling. Thirdly and finally, you will need a system in place for managing each stage of translation, plus, the ability to make important changes without missing deadlines.

For media agencies and companies, that don’t have the in-house resources for managing this kind of projects from start to finish, the best thing to do is collaborate with an agency that specialises in translating subtitles.

At translate plus we are experts in providing creative language services, including: transcreation, subtitling, voice overs and other adjacent services, for the delivery of multilingual video campaigns. If your video campaigns require a robust subtitle translation strategy, get in touch with us to discuss how we can help.

Posted on: November 10th, 2022