Subtitles might not be something we think about all too often, although they hit the headlines in early 2020 when South Korean film Parasite made history by becoming the first non-English language film to win best picture at the Oscars.

In his acceptance speech, director Bong Joon-ho spoke out in their defense. Calling them little more than an inch-high barrier, he lauded how subtitles open the gates to a big wide world of exciting film and cinema.

But it’s not just on the big screen that subtitles expand our world.

By quickly rendering audiovisual content accessible and understandable, they allow us to communicate across linguistic borders in a much more captivating and dynamic way. Whether this be to reach and engage customers, to train staff or to spread our message amongst the general public, subtitles are a tool that allow us to connect in ways unparalleled by other media – on both the big screen and our small ones.

Reading between the lines

Yet at the same time, subtitles are also tricky.

Creating good subtitles is no mean feat and takes a whole host of specialised skills beyond simply understanding both the source and target languages.

In order to ensure viewers are not overwhelmed, subtitles cannot exceed two lines and around 90 characters in length. This is hugely constrictive on the translator as it means a much greater volume of text needs to be condensed down. All without changing the meaning, compromising on mood and tone, or omitting any key details.

This last part is particularly thorny when translating TV shows, for example. What might seem like a throwaway comment in one episode could turn out to be key to the plot three or four episodes down the line.

This means that on top of everything else, the subtitler needs to be an expert in the content they are translating and possess a super keen understanding for the reason and purpose of every last word.

Even simply translating existing sets of subtitles can be trickier than a standard translation project.

The linguist will need to refer to the original video in order to understand visual references and how the subtitles and the visual content work in tandem. Moreover, it is only through access to the full depth of the original spoken text – with reference to all its nuances, its cadence and its rhythm – that a good set of subtitles can be created.

Lights, camera, action!

At Comunica, we offer subtitling translation services within English and the Nordic languages in addition to many others. We work with a large network of translators, so we will almost always have a linguist on hand with the right language skills and specialised knowledge to help you with your particular project.

We are able to help with translation of subtitles for creative projects such as short films, feature-length productions, web series and TV shows as well as corporate or commercial videos such as product presentations, training films and company presentations.

Things to keep in mind when commissioning a subtitling project

Here are three things that you need to keep in mind when commissioning a subtitling project:

  1. The linguist will need access to your full video
  2. Subtitling translation can take longer than usual
  3. The more information you can provide, the better

First of all, the linguist will need access to your full video in order to take account of both the original dialogue and visual references. In other words: it is not enough to simply send your subtitles in an SRT file. Therefore, you will have to consider how you will transfer your video file or make it available online; for example, using a video-sharing service with a password protection function.

Secondly, subtitling translation can sometimes take a little longer than usual due to the extra complexities involved, especially if your video deals with technical or specialised subject matter. So be sure to factor that into your planning.

Lastly, communication is key! The more information you can provide, the better the resulting subtitles will be. Be sure to highlight any key terms and let your subtitler know the key points you want to get across with your video. This will help the translator when making decisions on how to formulate each line of text.

We can’t wait to hear about your exciting subtitling translation project, so get in touch today and let’s have a chat about your needs and the possibilities!