What are the Challenges Faced By Translators While Translating Subtitles?

Subtitle Translation

What is subtitling? What is subtitle translation?

Subtitling is one of the commonest types of audiovisual translation. It makes it possible to access different types of entertainment, like movies, games, and documentaries by a greater number of people. A subtitle translation is the translation of a video’s language into another language through the use of written text subtitles. It requires the skills of trained translators who are highly efficient at translating conversations into subtitles. 

Subtitle Translation Errors 

There are some subtitle translation mistakes that are difficult to avoid such as the following:

  • With word-to-word translations, it is difficult to keep the meaning intact as often adaptations have to be made to ensure the subtitle represents the words spoken by the speakers
  • Difficulties with getting the subtitles to match the tone of the speakers.
  • As all actors speak with their own voice which represents their personality and attracts a certain viewer. For example, a video that targets teenagers will need subtitles that match their way of speaking so they will continue watching. The viewers need to be able to identify themselves with the situations they see in the video.
  • Punctuation in subtitles is not usually used but question marks and exclamation points are important as they help to keep the context clear. Commas, apostrophes, colons, and semi-colons make phrases intelligible and emphasize the key ideas of the script. 
  • Literal translations in subtitles don’t sound natural so to avoid this there are some techniques that need to be used such as switching the word order, modifying sentences, and restructuring phrases. 
  • Incorrect timing can be rectified when using a VLC media player to play a movie or video to correct bad timing you can delay or accelerate the subtitle using the keyboard shortcut G or H. Press the G button which will speed up the subtitle if it is behind the sound. It will speed up by about 50ms. Press the H button if you want to delay the subtitle if it is ahead of the sound.

Subtitle translation is a blend of translation and interpretation that will not benefit from machine translations. A professional subtitle translator can see what is happening on the screen which is important when providing accurate subtitles that represent the tone of the speakers in the video. Machine translators aren’t yet accurate enough to translate subtitles well with the reader in mind. Watching the characters’ body language and facial expressions helps a lot when translating their dialogue into subtitles.  These on-screen visual cues have a huge influence on subtitles translations. 


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    There are several ways to make subtitles more readable which are:

    • Use bold text in the subtitle.
    • Change the color of the subtitles. 
    • Around the subtitles add a darker box.
    • Include a background stripe to the subtitles.
    • Blur the subtitle’s background.

    The best practices for subtitle translation

    The translator should take some time to research the language being translated into subtitles, such as some potential nuances or colloquialisms that may affect the accuracy of the translated subtitles. All subtitles before they are uploaded need to be thoroughly proofread and the content needs to be tested on multiple devices before the subtitle project is launched. 

    Professional translators should always be used to ensure high-quality, accurate subtitle translations. When translating into subtitles it is important to consider the targeted language’s cultural context which includes considering the targeted audience’s idiomatic usage, cultural references, and nuances. Subtitles must be straightforward to read and understand so it is necessary to use concise, clear language that is simple to follow. Complex and long sentences may be hard to read and may cause the viewer to lose the plot in the video.


    Are you looking for subtitle translation services? Contact us to discuss your requirements and increase your video’s reach. 

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