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What is subtitling translation?

Published on April 27th, 2022

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Subtitling translation is one of the most flexible and cost-effective solutions when it comes to the translation of video footage into multiple languages.

In this article, we explain what subtitling translation has to offer and the questions you need to ask to determine whether it is the right approach for translating your videos.

Subtitling translation: what is it & why use it?

Subtitling translation is a dual service that can include the subtitling of video footage itself and the translation of those subtitles into target languages – or the translation of existing subtitles into other languages.

Subtitling places text on the screen to show spoken dialogue in a readable format, normally for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers or foreign-speaking audiences.

With translated subtitles, it is also a good practice to provide subtitles for important on-screen text that foreign-speaking audiences won’t understand.

This is not the same as closed captions that also place text on-screen for contextual noises that deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences will miss (ringing phones, traffic sounds and noises etc.). See our closed captions vs subtitles article for more information on this.

In order for foreign-speaking audiences to understand your video content, subtitling translation may be the best approach but there’s another one that needs to be discussed first: voiceover translation.

Subtitling translation vs voiceover translation

Subtitles are the most flexible and cost-effective way to translate video content, but this does not mean that they are also the best option for every single project. In some cases, voiceover translation is the preferred approach so understanding the pros and cons of each is what is going to help you make an informed choice.

Translated subtitles: pros & cons

The pros:

  • Cost-effective: With the right subtitling and translation process, this is the most cost-effective option.
  • Speed: Subtitles are relatively fast to produce and translate.
  • Scale: Subtitles are cheaper and easier to produce for large or ongoing video projects.
  • Flexibility: You can create subtitles for multiple languages with relative ease – and add more languages in the future.
  • Original dialogue: Subtitling preserves the original dialogue and performance of participants in your video.
  • Editable: Reviewing and editing subtitles is easy, fast and relatively cheap.
  • Accessibility: Subtitles are also effective for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences although closed captions are preferred for this purpose.

The cons:

  • Potentially distracting: Subtitles can take the viewer’s attention away from what is happening on-screen.
  • Text expansion: Text often expands when translated from English into other languages, taking up more screen space.
  • Pacing vs dialogue: Fast dialogue can make it difficult to follow subtitles or read them quickly enough.

Translated voiceover: pros & cons

The Pros:

  • Text-free viewing: With voiceovers, viewers can focus on what is happening on-screen instead of reading subtitles.
  • Pacing: Voiceovers are generally easier to match with conversational speech (see dialogue expansion below).

The Cons:

  • Cost: Voiceovers are significantly more expensive to produce than subtitles.
  • Speed: It takes time and resources to cast voice artists and produce voiceovers.
  • Original dialogue: With voiceovers, the original dialogue can be lost, as well as the performance of participants in your video.
  • Dialogue expansion: Like text, dialogue can expand when translated from English to other languages, although this tends to be less problematic with dialogue than with text.
  • Accessibility: Voiceovers offer no benefit for deaf or hard-of-hearing audiences.

Understanding the pros and cons of subtitles is crucial for choosing the right translation service for your video projects.

Are subtitles right for your video project?

When seeking the most cost-effective and flexible solution for translating video footage, translated subtitles may be the best option. The great benefit of subtitling translation is that is able to support multiple languages for a relatively low cost. Plus adding new languages in the future remains cost-effective.

It is also a great solution for those wishing to preserve the original language and performance of participants in their video, which is why it is often a popular choice for translating films.

The obvious downside to subtitles is that viewers have to physically read them, which may distract from the action taking place on-screen. If the key focus is to drive the viewer’s attention to what’s actually happening in the video, then voice overs may improve the experience – e.g. video tutorials where viewers need to watch and listen at the same time.

The main issue with voice overs is the cost but losing the original language and performances can be a problem, too – and potentially distracting in dramatic footage.

As with all things in creative language services, there are no perfect solutions and the choice comes down to selecting the best compromise for a given project’s needs.

If you need more information to decide whether subtitling translation is right for your next video project, our Creative Languages Service department are the best team to speak to about this.

Please fill out the form on our contact page to discuss the translation of your next video project and our creative translation team will get back to you.

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Posted on: April 27th, 2022