What is Subtitle Translation and How Can It Help You?

Subtitle Translation

Expanding your business’ audience internationally and, subsequently, your profits inevitably involves professional translation, whether it’s translating your website or product packaging. But how can you make your video content accessible to viewers all over the world who don’t speak English? Through subtitle translation of course!

Let’s take a closer look at subtitle translation and how it can be used to benefit your business.

What is subtitle translation?

Subtitle translation is a popular form of audiovisual translation where the spoken content of a video is translated and appears as text, usually at the bottom of the screen, simultaneously with the audio. Subtitle translators have to effectively convey the meaning of what the speaker says while taking the visual images happening on-screen into account and conforming to a number of restrictions that allow the viewer to read and process the information easily.

A short history of subtitles

The idea of using text on-screen to enhance a viewer’s understanding of the story has been around since the silent movies of the early days of cinema. In fact, the first example of written language on screen can be found in the 1903 film Uncle Tom’s Cabin directed by Edwin S. Porter. The filmmaker incorporated what were called ‘intertitles’: text that appeared between the action sequences.

Over time this evolved into something closer to what we recognize as subtitles today and filmmakers realized that the text could be translated into other languages, making their work accessible to audiences around the world.

When sound recording was introduced and movies with audio dialogue –‘the talkies’- became popular there was no longer a need for intertitles. However, filmmakers faced the problem of how international audiences would be able to understand the dialogue. And so, subtitle translation was born.

Where are subtitles used?

Over the years, subtitles have been indispensable to the film and TV industries, allowing movies and TV shows to be seen by audiences on a worldwide scale. While in the past there was an overwhelming dominance of American cinema that was exported around the globe, these days online streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO have given content from a myriad of countries a large platform. Consequently, the subtitle translation industry is in more demand than ever.

Although subtitles originated from the movies, translating blockbusters is not their only function. With so much video content circulating nowadays, from YouTube clips to Instagram reels, businesses from all kinds of sectors are finding themselves in need of subtitle translation to reach their global audiences. Examples of the types of videos that subtitles can be used for include:

  • Promotional videos
  • Instructional videos
  • Educational videos, lectures, and webinars
  • Company presentations
  • Commercials
  • Audiovisual content on social media

Why use subtitles?

The benefits of subtitles are clear: they allow the widest possible audience to engage with your audiovisual content. The internet has helped businesses expand their clientele in ways that would have been virtually impossible 20 or 30 years ago, and in a world where multimedia content is omnipresent, subtitles are an indispensable tool.

Leaving your audiovisual content untranslated severely limits your reach. To put this in perspective, let’s take a look at YouTube. Not only can your business advertise on YouTube adverts, but you can also upload promotional content to your own channel and potentially reach millions of viewers. As of 2021, YouTube has approximately 2.3 billion users and only 197 million of them are based in the US.

Subtitling vs. dubbing

Of course, subtitles are not the only form of audiovisual translation. The other main way to translate audiovisual content is dubbing. There are various forms of dubbing, but the most common one is for the original dialogue to be replaced with recorded dialogue in the new language, though it’s worth noting that this varies from country to country.

Although there is an argument that dubbing allows the target audience to enjoy video content in a more similar way to the original viewers (without reading), it does come with several disadvantages. For businesses, the most significant drawback is the cost. Not only are translators required to render the text, but you also need voice actors and sound mixers to bring it all together. Subtitles are a much cheaper alternative, even if you don’t provide the translator with video transcription.

Technical considerations of subtitles

Not all translators can create subtitles; there are numerous technical factors that the translator must understand and strict specifications that the subtitles must meet, so it’s always best to work with an experienced subtitle translator and a translation service provider that specializes in audiovisual translation and is familiar with subtitling software.

Some of the many issues subtitle translators have to consider are:

  • The number of characters and lines on the screen at once (typically no more than 70 characters over two lines)
  • How long a subtitle can be on the screen: it needs to be there enough time to be read, but not so long that the audio and visual don’t match with the subtitle
  • Where to break the line: this should make sense with the grammar and punctuation of the sentence to make it easier to read
  • How to use punctuation to capture emotions expressed
  • Where the subtitles will appear on the screen – this may depend on the language of the subtitles

Get high-quality subtitle translation today

If you have audiovisual content that you would like to share with your audiences overseas, subtitle translation may be the most cost-effective and successful way to do so. Make sure you work with a translation service provider that is skilled and experienced in subtitle translation, such as BeTranslated.

BeTranslated has a wide network of talented subtitle translators working with a broad range of language combinations such as English to German and Chinese to English. To discover how we can meet your subtitle needs, or for a free, no-obligation quote, get in touch today.