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Posted on1 February 2017

Translation Agency Tips: #43: Translating Subtitles

Translating subtitles, Atlas Translations, London, St Albans

Subtitles play a central role in films around the world. Allowing speakers of different languages access to films they would otherwise not understand. Many (if not most) film goers prefer subtitles to dubbing. This is perhaps because watching a film with subtitles doesn’t take anything away from how the film was meant to look, feel and sound. It is therefore interesting to see how it works, and what to bear in mind while translating subtitles.

Translating Subtitles

It is good to remember that reading text on the screen is very different from reading a document. In fact, when inputting subtitles in the video after a translation, it is important to keep in mind a few things. After all, you need to make it easy for the viewer to read the subtitles and follow what is being conveyed. The translation should be concise and communicate what needs to be understood as simple as possible.

For easy reading it is important not to place too many words/characters in a line while subtitling. There will also be a character limit to what you can fit on each subtitle. When translating subtitles, if your client hasn’t stated a character limit, check with them what this is. Remember also that people speak more quickly than they read. In all likelihood you won’t be able to include everything being said in your translation. The most important thing is to convey the meaning of what is being said on screen. The subtitles should match the images appearing.

If the entire text cannot be placed in one line, then it’s necessary to break the lines and keep these grammatically correct, which makes subtitles easy to read. If a proper division of the lines is not maintained, you’ll end up with a jumble of sentences causing confusion to the viewer.

The best way to separate lines is after a punctuation mark and before conjunctions (and, because, or, etc.) or prepositions (for, on, in etc.). Also remember not to break down names, abbreviations, numbers, phrases, etc. that will make it difficult for the viewer to understand what is being conveyed.

Here are some tips that can be useful for Translators

  • Do research. As with any translation work, you should always research words and topics that you’re not familiar with.
  • Watch the video, if this is available and can be supplied by your client. It’s always very helpful.
  • Preserve the meaning of the source text but don’t translate word by word.
  •  Keep sentences as short as possible. If your transcript is too lengthy for subtitles viewers wouldn’t be able to read all the text while this is on the screen. Make sure each line doesn’t go over the character limit set by your client. This will depend on the target language.
  • Depending on the nature of the language you are translating into, always prefer simpler/shorter words when available. You’ll convey the same meaning without cluttering the screen.
  • Know your audience (social, cultural background of the people who speak the language). This helps you to better communicate the meaning to those who use the subtitles.

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