19 May 2021

The secrets to subtitling success

Categoria: Linguistic Services

Subtitling is a whole other world compared to standard translation – and there are set rules that need to be followed to ensure success. But before we look at these, let’s take a step backwards to see what we mean by the term itself.

Subtitling is a specific form of audiovisual translation that sees the translated product used in a different way compared to most written text. When you translate a manual, you have to stick as faithfully as possible to the original and take care to mirror the source language exactly, but that approach simply does not work when it comes to audiovisual translation.

To translate and subtitle a video, you have to take other forms of expression and communication into account, including sounds, voices and images. It’s really important to follow certain rules in order to succeed in this form of translation, where the user’s attention is drawn to multiple different things at the same time.

Let’s take a look at the criteria you should follow for subtitling success.

The characteristics of good subtitles

Good subtitles must meet a number of criteria.

From a technical standpoint, there are two main things to consider:

  • length
  • screen time

You need to consider both the space limitations imposed by the screen and the time that viewers need to read the text. As such, it’s important to ensure that subtitles are no longer than two lines – so 70 characters – and that they remain on screen for between one and six seconds.

In terms of the skills required by the translator, good subtitling requires a translator to:

  • convey the full message
  • produce natural output

It’s vital for subtitles to contain all the information viewers need to understand the scene they’re watching, but it’s also important that it come across naturally, as if the viewers were listening to speech rather than reading text.

Discretion is a key quality when it comes to subtitling.

Subtitles must never attract attention away from the scene – their job is to complement it, not distract from it.

That’s why they appear at the bottom of the screen, in a central position, to enable the viewer to read them while watching the scene at the same time, with all text, images and sounds perfectly in sync – a base requirement to be able to enjoy a film or documentary in its original language.

The rules of good translation

As we mentioned at the start of this article, audiovisual translation is very different from text translation, with different needs and thus different rules to follow.

Space and time limitations make it impossible to translate everything that is said. The aim of subtitling is to capture the core message and to express it concisely in the target language. That’s the key to translating speech.

Yet there is another side to it – and it’s all about finding the most natural words, expressions and punctuation possible. It’s really important to avoid getting lost in technical jargon or wasting time and space with additions or redundant elements. An audiovisual translator has to strip away the superfluous and leave only the indispensable. Subtitles need to be clear and easy to read, helping viewers to understand the scenes they are watching.

It’s crucial to work with expert professionals to ensure top quality when it comes to subtitling. People who have extensive knowledge of both the source and target language, who have plenty of experience delivering this niche service and who have an excellent understanding of the rules they need to follow and the tools they need to use for good subtitling.

At Way2Global, we can deliver all that and more. Our teams of native-speaker subtitlers and translators are highly experienced and stay up to date with the latest developments in the field. They work closely with our project managers, who deliver personalized service every time to help clients find the right service for them. Combined with over three decades’ experience in the industry, this means we can guarantee the highest quality across all our services.

Need a subtitling serviceGet in touch!


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