Why Subtitling?

Subtitling increases the reach of a production worldwide.

Subtitling helps
the illiterate
to learn how to read.

Subtitling helps people learning new languages.

Immigrants and their children acquire their new language partly through subtitling.

In countries like the Netherlands and Sweden,
people read more subtitles than any other texts.

Badly subtitled clip
Well subtitled clip

Subtitling Code (pdf)


About Subtitling

SWw's ex-student Nandini Karky's start as a subtitler,
an informative as well as interesting interview.
Deccan Chronicle, 7-17-2013

3 reasons why subtitlers become better translators

1. Because at first they become bad translators...
Speaking goes faster than reading, therefore good subtitles contain less text than there is spoken. On average one third has to go out. Because of this, beginning subtitlers start by producing bad target language. This in turn has proven to be a trigger to start producing clear and grammatically correct subtitles and thereby, to stop producing interference.

2. Because subtitlers always receive feedback.
Even for many good subtitlers this is a lifelong torment. But even they have something to profit from the expertise of colleagues and editors. If they would always work isolated, gradually the source language would creep into their work. Also they would start making more and more idiosyncratic mistakes.

3. Because they empathize and re-create!
Good subtitlers are masters in the art of empathizing and re-creating; they are like method actors.
If you do not empathize and, in short, do not say what you yourself would say in this or that situation, you are producing what is called 'translatorisms', word combinations and expressions no native speaker would ever use.

The huge advantages of empathizing and re-creating:
a. The work is more fun.
b. It goes much faster.
c. The result is much better.

It's hard to believe that there are still colleagues
who are not yet aware of this natural best method.

Al Pacino about the Compact Course

Subtitling can have disadvantages too:

1. As subtitlers work directly with source language videos, some have difficulties to step away from the source language, and as a result produce subtitles with a lot of interference. Admittedly, these people may well become worse translators because of their subtitling.

2. For some it's difficult to switch between the many specific subtitling rules and the rules of translation agencies and publishers.

3. In some cases subtitlers can get so used to condensing that that they forget how to translate texts entirely, including the nuances and all kinds of things that are left out in subtitling, like names and greetings. PS The above is not applicable in subtitling for the hearing-impaired because they generally want subtitles that are entire translations.

Aspects of subtitling - Condensing and the ! Experienced subtitlers leave out what can be missed. Beginning subtitlers often keep on trying to translate everything, bothering the viewer with redundant words like exclamations, names and greetings that just disturb the viewer's experience.

The most extreme example of the beginner's tendency to burden the viewer with a complete rendering is the exclamation mark. Therefore I often try to help them by stating: 'Exclamation marks are exclusively used by beginning subtitlers.'

5 ways to let go of the source language in translations
One of the most difficult aspects of translating and subtitling is letting go of the source language. The source language is the only thing translators and subtitlers can hold on to. Often it takes beginning translators and subtitlers years to really get the hang of it, and even experienced translators and subtitlers always have to be on their guard for source language interference.

These are five simple ways to help you do it right:
1. Step away from the source language. A few examples:
      a. Don’t copy source language sentence structure — use the most natural structure of the target language.
      b. Don’t exclusively use words, expressions, grammatical constructions close to the source language — use the whole vocabulary, all the idioms and all grammatical possibilities of the target language.
      c. Don’t translate source language idioms literally, even if it would result in grammatically correct target language — look for idioms-equivalents in the target language.
2. Empathize. Be an actor or actress: act like you are the speaker or writer. Say or write what you as a target language speaker would say or write in that situation or in that frame of mind.
3. Read your work aloud, preferably the one-but-last version. When you do this, try to forget you are translating so that you will for a moment again become the native target language speaker you actually are, and who, strangely enough, can re-create the text in the target language much better than the translator inside you.
4. Split your work into phases and take breaks between them. First make the complete draft (so don’t go rereading and correcting every translated sentence immediately, because that way you won’t detach yourself from the text and remain blind for your own mistakes). 2nd phase, if necessary: research. 3rd phase: read through and correct. 4th phase: read aloud and correct. Last phase: spell check.
5. Build a repertory of do’s and don’ts. Keep a list of good transformations as well as a list of things you absolutely want to avoid.

If your translations or subtitles are to be sound, the text in the target language should not raise even the least bit of doubt with regard to its grammaticality and naturalness.

ESIST's subtitling code: a very useful instrument
ESIST, the European Association for Studies in Screen Translation has on their website their wonderful Subtitling Code. You can even download the pdf.

"The language should be grammatically correct since subtitles serve as a model for literacy", the Code says, among so many other important truths.

Any subtitler, any subtitling firm, even any government can profit from this document, that is seemingly simple but filled to the brim with the combined experience of the makers, Mary Carroll and Jan Ivarsson. Beginning subtitling firms anywhere in the world can use the Code to grasp hold of the right rules and to try to stick to it as much as possible, to make sure that they will have a future in subtitling.

To be honest, we don't agree with the Code in every detail. In the Netherlands we don't subtitle "superfluous" information for the hearing-impaired, we have captions for the hearing-impaired, and the standard interval between subtitles in the Netherlands is not 4 frames but only 3.

But you don't have to agree totally with the Code to appreciate and utilize it, even profit from it.

Also, the Code can help enlighten the many people who think everyone can subtitle. Everyone can subtitle, badly that is, ruining expensive audio-visual productions, for we are compulsive readers and will read all the rubbish in our alphabet, while good subtitling is seemingly invisible.

Bartho Kriek
Subtitling Worldwide

About Subtitling
In the past films and other audio-visual material was dubbed in the language of the country where they were shown. The Americans built dubbing studios in most European countries for this purpose.

Then, in the countries with small populations like the Netherlands, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries, the cheaper localising method of subtitling was discovered. Gradually subtitling became a profession.
At present it seems dubbing is on its way out, not only because it's more expensive but because viewers in countries where dubbing is still the standard, countries like Germany and Italy, don't want to be patronised any longer. They want a more authentic experience hearing John Wayne drawl his unadulterated language.

Good subtitling also helps maintain the language skills of the viewers. In some countries it even helps fighting illiteracy. Furthermore it has become a relatively cheap and flexible instrument supporting communication between different cultures and language areas.

Different subtitling fields
In a growing number of countries normal subtitling is replacing the more expensive practice of dubbing. On television, in cinemas and on DVD, more and more people expect subtitling. In many countries, however, quality is poor. The badly subtitled clip (follow the link at the right of the page) gives you an idea as to how. The conclusion can only be that people make expensive productions and then, incredibly, ruin them with bad subtitling.

There is also a growing market for subtitling for the hearing-impaired. In some countries the law requires all television programmes to be subtitled for the hearing-impaired. There are two schools of thought. The first one: include in the subtitles all the information and text that is spoken - this often means that three lines are needed instead of the usual two. The second school of thought: condense the text and give only indispensable information.

Another growing market is that of same language subtitling. In many Western countries subtitles are, for both children and grown-ups, the most widely read texts. Subtitles also help immigrants and their children to learn the local language. In countries like India, same language subtitling is used to help fight illiteracy: if you show people the written text of what they hear in their own local language, it stimulates them and helps them to overcome their illiteracy.

Internet subtitling is becoming ever more important as a growing number of educational, business and entertainment videos can be watched on the Internet.