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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.

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.