Reaching Larger Audience Through Subtitling Translation

Translating or localizing video is now common practice. However, there are many other ways to deal with foreign-speaking videos without costly localization or voice-over. Subtitles can be added to existing videos to make them more accessible. 

Subtitling, captioning, dubbing, and voiceover are some ways believed to make digital content culturally and linguistically relevant. Subtitles become an important part of movies or TV shows since they can help us better to understand what is happening on-screen, as it is also helpful, especially for anyone with hearing impairment or hard of hearing or just anyone who doesn’t want to turn the audio on.

What to consider when translating subtitles?

As a translator, there are several things to consider when translating subtitles, which vary from other types of texts.

Adaptation of the text

According to TED, people read words slower than they hear them, so adapting text is important to ensure the viewer can read everything in time while keeping it brief and clear. Translating from English into Spanish can expand text length by 25% while translating into Swedish can reach up to 40%. So, it‘s important to keep concise while maintaining the original text’s meaning.

Technical Specifications of Subtitle Translation

Subtitles can be created manually or added automatically by using a program. You can also add your own subtitles. Most clients, especially in television and films, request a two-lined subtitle of 60-70 characters that stays on the screen for five to eight seconds. 

To give viewers enough reading time, subtitles should be shown at a rate not exceeding some twelve characters per second, and the lines must not contain more than seventy characters per line (one or two lines).

Currently, there are also professional subtitle translation programs that operate with pixels, not characters, allowing for proportional lettering, which means the linguist can write as much text as possible, depending on the typeface being used and the actual amount of space available on screen, but this software is still expensive and not so widely used.

Subtitle Classification

A subtitler usually translates the script into another language. In this case, the subtitle is translated into English. As the subtitle continues to display after the audio ends, it is called a post-text subtitle. Closed captioning is a type of subtitle used by people who are having hearing impairment or are hard of hearing. Subtitle translation is used by people who want to watch movies in another language than their native language. Both closed captioning and subtitle translations are types of subtitles.

Disadvantages of Subtitle Translation

Some critics of subtitle translation note its disadvantages are mistranslation and that it takes the audience away from the picture. However, one should remember that mistranslations aren’t exclusive to subtitling. 

When it comes to subtitle translation, indeed, the picture is queen. Remember that subtitles are shortened in order to fit the recommended time and space constraints. In most cases, this helps the audience receive the main ideas without unnecessary information that is faithful to the source texts. Technical specifications are not set in stone. However, some clients do not allow three lines on screen. Some even want a word-by-word translation. All client’s requirements can be met both technically as well as linguistically.


In order to translate subtitles, you need to understand the language and the elements embedded with it. This means that you should understand the storyline to be aware of the context. Reading the script beforehand might be helpful, but the client hardly provides such documents in a project. 

Today, you can use translation software to generate subtitles automatically but in some languages, the results are not very accurate or reliable. All in all this article highlights the importance of length, timing, and quality assurance as the keys to reach a larger audience in subtitling translation.

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