subtitle translator Archives - Into23

Best Practices and Guidelines for Subtitles

Have a video or an eLearning video course that needs subtitling? Make the most of your subtitles with subtitling services and these best practices.

Subtitling may seem like a straightforward video editing element but there is an art to subtitling, which means there are many good reason to have it done by a professional, especially if you require language translation services. Subtitling services are especially important if you have content that needs to be translated into another language as a subtitling translator can apply the best subtitling practices but can also ensure translation accuracy. 

Two girls in front of a subtitled screen

Subtitles can be found in a variety of video platforms such as business or academic content as well as in entertainment. – Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

What is Subtitling and When Do You Need It?

Subtitling is the accompanying written text or dialogue from a piece of video. The text is synchronized with a video segment and is concise enough to be read and understood in a short time. Subtitling can be used to add additional support to a video so that it can be viewed without sound or it can be used to provide content in a language that differs from the audio dialogue and content.  While subtitling is used in the entertainment industry with movies and TV shows, it is also used commercially, especially as businesses make use of visuals in their marketing and localization strategies. For example, eLearning localization has become more prominent on eLearning platforms as they expand to reach a wider global market. The use of video translation services is also being used more often within business websites as part of their global marketing strategies. 

Whether you need subtitles for a video on your website or for your eLearning platform, here are some of the best subtitling practices.

Subtitle Timing and Placement

As the images are just as relevant to the subtitles, the timing and position of the subtitles are very important. 

  • Subtitles need to appear and disappear as the words themselves are spoken but are also on-screen long enough to be read. Around 15-18 characters per second is a good standard.
  • If necessary, simplify the text to make it easier to read but always ensure to caption all important and relevant information. This is especially important within eLearning platform content.
  • Each subtitle should be one complete sentence, with no more than two on the screen at a time. With two sentences on the screen, the shortest one should generally be on top to minimize eye movement, prevent image overlay, and make it easier to read.
  • Synchronization and pauses in the sentences should occur naturally with the speech or when there is a natural change or pause in the course, content, or scene.
  • Font size is important. The font needs to be large enough to read with ease and the colour and contrast of the font also needs to align with the image background.
  • Subtitles are generally placed at the bottom centre of a video. This is to avoid it clashing with images and other word content on screen. The most important thing to consider is the subtitles clashing with the image or video content so positioning can be adjusted if necessary. 

Subtitle Meaning

Ensuring your subtitles capture the meaning from the original audio is even more important when translating into another language. 

  • Using a subtitle translator can ensure that you’re getting the best translation possible and that your subtitles capture the meaning of the content and not just the words. 

Subtitle Sounds

Video editing

Sounds and sometimes even silence are both important aspects of subtitling. – Photo by Matthew Kwong on Unsplash

The backgrounds sounds and noise in a video, while not part of a dialogue or speech, can be just as important to capture the meaning of the content. 

  • If dialogue or speech is inaudible a label should detail the cause.
  • Ie. The noisy crowd muffles speech
  • Sound effects, such as a car horn or a dog barking, should be enclosed in brackets and italicised.
  • Ie. (dog barking)

Subtitle Punctuation

The addition of punction and formating can help add clarity. 

  • If multiple people are speaking at the same time, add the names or descriptions of the person or character to identify the speakers
    • Ie. (Claire) You have got to be kidding me?
            (Steve) I told you so!
  • When subtitling a song or singing, it’s helpful to indicate that it is music with a music icon () at the beginning and end of the song.
    • Ie. Take a sad song, and make it better…

The Importance of Subtitling Services or a Subtitle Translator 

Video translation services are essential if you are localizing your video content or in the process of website localization to ensure consistency and quality in your content no matter what language it’s being presented in. Into23 offers quality video translation serviceseLearning translation, software localization services in any language your business requires. Our translators offer the highest quality translation with fast turnaround and delivery. Inquire about our subtitling services and get a free quote.

Words that altered history – translation blunders in international relations

Poor translation in international relations can have profound and far-reaching consequences, sometimes for several countries, especially when it comes to negotiating complex trade agreements, like the one the European Union recently signed with the UK after years of torturous negotiations detailing Brexit arrangements.

translation blunders in international relations

Don’t let your translations build walls

Mokusatsu

In perhaps the most shocking instance, a mistranslation of a Japanese word contributed to the dropping of nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in the final days of World War II.

On July 26, 1945, towards the end of World War II, the United States, Great Britain and China called on Japan to surrender unconditionally. The demand, issued at the Potsdam conference, which was convened to discuss what peace would look like, came some two months after the fall of Hitler. However, the war raged on in the Pacific, with Japan showing few signs of letting up. The declaration pledged that the country would not be “enslaved” or “destroyed”, and warned that a negative response would result in “prompt and utter destruction.”

Answering the demand, then Japanese prime minister Suzuki Kantaro responded with the term “mokusatsu,” the translation of which has subsequently become the focus of heated debate.

Notably, he was speaking to reporters off the cuff, before the government had formally decided on its stance. In this context, mokusatsu can be translated as “no comment.” The word has other meanings, and the international press variously translated the response as “not worthy of comment,” and “held in silent contempt,” which riled the US and the UK, who saw the perceived response as aligning with the kamikaze spirit.

Ten days later they decided to drop two nuclear bombs on the country. Linguists have called this the world’s most tragic translation.

translation blunders in international relations

Keeping the peace requires precise, nuanced translations

From Russia with love

Not only did a mistranslation play a part in determining the way World War II ended, another mistranslation arguably increased the likelihood of World War III some 50 years ago.

Against the backdrop of simmering Cold War tensions, and the growing threat of nuclear war, comments by Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev caused a stir. Speaking in 1956 to a gathering of ambassadors from Western Block countries at the Polish embassy in Moscow, Khrushchev’s comments prompted the envoys of 13 countries to turn their backs and leave the event.

Khruschev was reported to have told the diplomats, “we will bury you”.

However, the context of the quote was not precisely conveyed in the translation. The translator was one Viktor Sukhodrev, who was dubbed the king of interpreters. Sukhodrev has commented that Khrushchev was a difficult speaker to translate as he told jokes and sprinkled his speeches with proverbs.

Some observers argue the translation was too literal, as other meanings of the phrase used include “we will live to see you buried,” or “we shall outlast you.”

Putting the phrase into the context of the whole speech, which was about ideology and not war, shows the threatening element of the “we shall bury you” quote is overblown when taken out of context.

Indeed, Khrushchev later clarified the statement, saying, “I once said, ‘We will bury you’, and I got into trouble with it. Of course, we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you.” This sentiment aligned with communist ideology, which saw the proletariat as the undertaker of capitalism. The sentiment being expressed was that Communism would outlast Capitalism. In the end, Sukhodrev’s translation was technically right, but he had arguably misjudged the audience’s level of understanding of the cultural context of the phrase.

Observers continue to debate whether it was a misinterpretation or a full-on mistranslation.

Persian problems

In 2005, then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kicked up a brouhaha with comments he gave at a conference titled The World Without Zionism. The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that the then newly installed leader had said that Israel was a “disgraceful blot” and it should be “wiped off the face of the earth.”

France, German, Israel and the US swiftly condemned the statement. Indeed, previous Iranian leaders had previously issued similar comments, though not for several years, and in that time, relations between many Muslim states and Israel had improved.

However, linguists like Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, pointed out that the original Persian statement did not express the thought that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth. Rather, a more accurate translation is, “Israel would collapse.”

It seems newswire translators had mistranslated the statement. These translators had relied on a quote from a speech given in the 1980s by Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which had also been translated imprecisely, as a reference for the quote.

Not only did the transaction mishap stoke international tensions and the perception that Iran was adopting a more militaristic stance on Israel, in Iran the quote in English was taken up by nationalists and plastered on billboards.

Poleaxed in Poland

On a lighter note, US president Jimmy Carter was subject to some colourful mistranslations on a visit to Poland in 1977. In one speech, he intimated that he’d like to get to know the Polish people’s “desires for the future.” The interpreter, however, mistranslated it as Carter expressing sexual desire for the country. The comment was met with stone-cold silence.

translation blunders in international relations

With so many languages spoken in international relations, slip-ups are all too easy

The interpreter also mangled another part of Carter’s speech, reported Time magazine. In this instance, “I left the United States this morning” became, “I left the United States, never to return.” Queue more silence.

The interpreter was replaced, but the problems didn’t end there. While giving a toast at a state banquet later that same trip, Carter looked up from his speech to be met by another wall of silence. The new interpreter had found the US leader’s English too challenging, so instead of interpreting, he just stayed silent.

It’s not just international relations where precision and context are key. Interpreting business requirements need the same level of skill and experience. For example, eliciting the same responses as the mistranslations above in customers would be disastrous if you’re engaging in the likes of a media localisation agency, audio transcription services provider, or legal translator. Correct translation and translation quality assurance are incredibly important.

These examples clearly demonstrate the need for precise translations that are nuanced enough to take account of the cultural context. Whether you’re looking for a Russian translation agency, or want to access a Arabic vs Urdu vs Farsi translating and interpreting service, to avoid diplomatic faux pas, get in touch with Into23’s team of expert, and very precise, polyglot translators.

What we can learn from the Squid Game subtitle debate

Phenomenal runaway South Korean hit Squid Game, streaming via Netflix, was in one regard panned: For many viewers, the subtitle translations obscured the original content’s meaning. Criticism centred on the subtitles not conveying the complexity and nuances of the brilliantly written script. The errors are so bad, according to observers, that the English subtitled version and the Korea are completely different films in terms of not only dialogue, but meaning and character development.

For the uninitiated, Squid Game follows struggling South Koreans who do battle to escape the drudgery of their existence by winning a huge cash prize in a bloody series of games in which the penalty of losing is death.

(The script by director-writer Hwang Dong-hyuk had been rejected by movie companies on numerous occasions over the course of a decade, before it was made.)

One American Korean-speaking viewer, put their finger on the frustration this caused fans of the show. “Not to sound snobby, but I’m fluent in Korean and I watched Squid Game with English subtitles and if you don’t understand Korean, you didn’t really watch the same show,’ she tweeted. ‘Translation was so bad. The dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved,” she was reported by Elle as tweeting.

How bad was it, really?

Because of the changes of meaning in the subtitles, some of the characters came across as very different from that originally envisioned by the filmmaker, who is releasing three of his films the streaming platform.

The intensity of the situation contestants found themselves in was somewhat marred by the soft expletives they used whilst battling to the bitter end. In the original Korean, the language is far more gritty, as would befit such a hellish scenario.

Squid game-video translation services

Source

One aspect of Korean that was wholly lost in translation was the use of honourifics. In many East Asian languages, honourifics are important parts of communication between people of different generations. They convey rich meaning about social relations, which was lost in the subtitles. These honorific comprise words like verb forms and pronouns that reflect and recognise the speakers’ social hierarchical status. There are certain pronouns that a younger speaker would use to address an older speaker. ‘Older brother’ is commonly used by a younger make when referring to an older man. It indicates a degree of closeness and fondness, but this was lost in the translation.

Another instance is when Pakistani shop worker Ali meets company chief Sang Woo. At first, Ali addresses Sang Woo with the moniker, Mr Company President. As their relationship deepens in the face of extreme adversity, Sang Woo bids Ali call him, hung, or big brother, instead. This affects the way a scene where Sang Woo betrays Ali, as the English translation was ‘call me Sang Woo,” which is not as poignant. The intimacy conveyed by the big brother moniker powerfully conveys the exploitation and selfishness of humans in general. Lastly, the lead film’s entire meaning was warped through the subtitle translations.

There are two English subtitles, one of which is closed captioning, has fewer errors. Closed captions display more than just what’s said, they convey other aspects of the visual display. It’s used for when the sound is unavailable or can’t be understood. The other version comprises a transcription of the dubbed version.

What is subtitling? (Subtitles, closed captions and dubbing)

To understand where it went wrong and how you can get it right first time, it’s necessary to understand the subtitling process and its limitations.

Subtitling falls between translation and interpretation and requires video transcription services with a specific set of skills, including the ability to condense dialogue into a set parameter – the on-screen closed caption space – whether the dialogue is intensely complex, or incredibly simple. Expert subtitles must be totally up-to-date with changes in vernacular language as much television content features everyday language, often spoken by young people, who are on the cutting edge of changes to language. Just as a dubbing studio would have a dubbing artist, audio and video transcription services include highly honed subtitle experts. A good subtitle translator is hard to find, so do your due diligence. A good subtitling agency will be able provide premium subtitling services that are fit for an international hit. When consider a dubbing and subtitling services company, make sure to look at the reviews of existing customers, and assess the level of content they have produced before. Many companies will provide audio transcription services, voice dubbing and video translation services under one roof.

Subtitle challenges

Translating phrases in a way that takes the same amount of time to say the same thing in two languages is incredibly challenging. Copying actors’ mouth movements is important as it increases the feeling of authenticity and audience engagement. There is a fine balance between matching the actors’ mouth movements and staying true to the actual words.

The language pair being translated also has a bearing on subtitle challenges. For example, when translating from Korea to Japanese, as the latter language also uses a similar set of honourifics, then its easier to convey the precise meaning of the original.

But with a language pair like Arabic and Korean, the difference is going to be much greater. One reason for this is a language’s compactness. This refers to the number of words used to express a thought. Some languages have single words to explain a thought or action, for example, whereas others will use several words. Another way to put, is that a compact is a more efficient language.

Writing in The Atlantic, John McWhorter postulates that the least efficient language is Kabardian, which is spoken in the Caucasus. He notes that in the simple sentence “The men saw me,” the word for “saw” is sǝq’ayǝƛaaɣwǝaɣhaś (pronounced roughly “suck-a-LAGH-a-HESH”).

Why is it becoming more important?

Global audiences are becoming more comfortable with watching content in foreign languages with subtitles. Indeed, many of Netflix’s top hits are foreign language series like Borgen and Call My Agent. Foreign content is also becoming increasingly accessible. If you want to increase your content’s audience, then expert subtitling is the way to go. Contact us today to explore your options.