10 Subtitling Challenges You Need To Look Out For

Subtitling is a film process that localizes films to fit a particular culture or demographic which brings inclusivity in film production. As much as the process has its fair share of benefits, it is very important for anyone who is planning to take it on, to know some challenges they will face and be readily prepared. In this article, we will look at the ten most important challenges you must prepare yourself to face before you can have a perfectly subtitled film that your target audience will enjoy in the long run.

These challenges are stretched across the technical, cultural and linguistical aspects of subtitling.

1. Inter-linguistic Translation.

When you hear of audio-visual translation, the first thing that should come to your mind is the reality that this kind of translation is not only limited to language translation. It is important to note that before the audio is translated from one language to another, it is firstly converted from an audio format into a written format in a process known as transcription. Making sure that the context of the message being passed in the original film after undergoing all these steps is maintained, is one challenge that subtitlers have to deal with. This poses as a challenge because if context is not taken into consideration, chances are the subtitled version of a film will be totally different to the original which is something you should be avoiding.


2. Syntheses Ability

Subtitling translation is one that has very many restrictions, what this means is that from time to time you won’t miss a shorter or slightly longer line when translating. With such restrictions, it is important to work with a subtitle translator who can stretch or condense translated lines but still retain the original context and meaning of the audiovisual. Get a subtitler who knows how to prioritize important information while condensing or stretching it and still have the viewers in mind for the time they are watching the film and reading through the subtitles. The essence of watching a movie is to enjoy it and not a competition of reading subtitles.

3. Contemporary Culture

Translation in its entirety is not a process that comes easy or one that you can just work on smoothly without meeting a couple of hurdles from time to time. Word to word translation is easy because all you have to do is to be conversant with the source and target language. When it comes to audio-visual translation, it is impossible to do a word-for-word translation and avoid having a senseless translation. Imagine having to do a word-for-word translation of a song, poem or even a spoken word from the English language into the Spanish language, high chances are that the translated version will not have the same message and context as the original. This is a challenge that subtitling translation has, you must be able to make sure that contemporary culture is included when doing your translation which takes more time and research.

4. Space Restrictions

When it comes to subtitling, space restriction is a challenge that you will have to come face to face with, and from experience, I can tell you, it is difficult to condense words and still keep the original meaning and context of a statement in another language. If you are a translator, you have noticed that a particular statement in the English language will either have more or fewer words when translated to another language. In a case, where you get a statement that has too many words you have to condense it and still ensure it carries the same message expected. This is because there are limits regarding the number of characters per line and location on the screen in subtitling.


5. Technical Support

During a normal translation process, all you need is a machine that has a word document enabled and you are good to go. If you are the kind to do translation manually, all you need is a notebook and a pen. This is totally different when it comes to audiovisual translation for subtitling. Since you have to deal with audios and different software that support the format of the videos you have to work with, you must always be in contact with technical support. This is important because from time to time you might receive a badly converted video file and must have it fixed before you can continue working on it. Also, the software can shut down from time to time so it is very important for you to be aware of this challenge and prepare yourself mentally.

6. Reading Flow Conservation

Audio-visual to text format translation differs totally from text to text format translation. It is always important to ensure that the subtitles you create have a reading flow conservation. All this means is that you should be able to have your subtitles flowing meaningfully and not just have a bunch of subtitle lines that make little sense to the viewer. You should avoid having your articles and adjectives split from their respective nouns or leave out isolated prepositions.

7. Cut Sync

One of the most time-consuming aspects of subtitling is the cut sync. When translating for subtitles it is usually advisable for translators not to create subtitles that do not match the shots or scene changes. In audiovisuals, you will get multiple scenes and shot changes and you as the translator must be able to create subtitles that will fit perfectly well in a scene or shot change to ensure their invisibility.

8. Exposed Translation

The bitter sweet reality of audio-visual translation is that you will have exposed translations. This only means that your viewers will always know that they are dealing with a translated version of a movie and so it is important to have your subtitles translated in the most perfect way possible. This is usually not the case for literary translation. When creating subtitles, always strive to have subtitle invisibility. When a viewer is conversant with the source language and the target language for your subtitles, they could tell whether your translation was done perfectly or not. It is very important to take this into consideration.

9. Audiovisual Rhythm Conservation

During the production process of a film, all the movie scenes are usually planned perfectly in order to achieve a perfect rhythm and it is important to have subtitles showcasing this. You need to create subtitles that would not go against the original planned scenes of the movie. Having the subtitles merge perfectly with the audio-visual, is one step in the right direction and it will ensure that the viewers don’t notice that they are dealing with a translated version of a film.


10. Time Restrictions

The last challenge you will have to face when creating subtitles is the time restriction challenges. It goes without saying that a well-subtitled film is one that has its subtitles appear on the screen during the time equivalent to its utterance on the audio-visual. You must ensure to do this having in mind the reading speed of your viewers. You might create the best-translated subtitles there are, but the reality is that if your viewers cannot keep up with them, you probably did a bogus job.  

With that said, be very keen and note all these challenges whenever you want to create subtitles for audiovisuals. Some challenges are more complex than others but one thing I know for sure is that they are all challenges that are manageable. You might face other personal challenges but these are common across the board.

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