Things to Avoid When Translating Subtitles

Last Updated On: March 14, 2018

inTranslation Tips

Subtitle Translation

Subtitling is a process that helps to bring out the meaning of a conversation in a language that is different from the spoken one. However, translators don’t always follow the best translation method when translating conversations into subtitles. There are things to avoid when creating subtitles as described below.

Attempting to do a literal translation

The first thing that should be avoided when translating a conversation into subtitles is translating literally, as for example trying to translate a colloquialism may not have quite the desired effect as it does in its correct language. Also, some words and phrases require more words in another language in order to provide the best translation. Subtitling requires economising words, so this means a literal translation is rarely possible.



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    Placing too many characters on one line

    Reducing the number of words in a translation is essential as there is insufficient space on the screen where the subtitles are likely to appear to allow for too many characters.


    Adapting the subtitle to the culture of the reader

    By trying to achieve this in a subtitle will likely lead to confusion, so it’s better to simplify the language in a subtitle so all can understand it.


    Using machine created subtitle translation

    Machine translators like Google Translate may be accurate for basic language translation but when it comes to translating idiomatic expressions it does not come out with a good, clear translation and should not be used for subtitling. Human translators do a far better job finding an appropriate translation for subtitles.


    Conveying the incorrect speech style

    It’s necessary for the subtitle translator to understand the style of the speech being used so that the subtitle reflects this style. An 80 year old comes across differently than a 16 year old so the age of the speaker should be clear in the subtitle.


    Creating subtitles in the absence of audiovisual input

    If this is done the meaning conveyed in the subtitles may not directly relate to the audio visual content.


    Incorrect timing

    Subtitles should appear when the particular speaker starts talking. Subtitles which are inputted at the wrong time and don’t match the way the speaker is behaving will lose the concentration of the viewer.


    Inputting more than 2 lines

    One thing to avoid when creating subtitles is not to use more than 2 lines for a subtitle. This is because it may obscure some of the movie appearing on the screen.

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