Interesting Subtitling Facts That You Don’t Know

Subtitling is creating a translated version of the audio from one language to another into a text format which is normally placed at the bottom of a screen on a film. That is how I would describe subtitling to anybody who is new to it or in a simpler term. Now according to Wikipedia, “Subtitles are texts derived from either a transcript or screenplay of the dialog or commentary in films, television programs, video games usually displayed at the bottom of the screen, but can also be at the top of the screen if there is already text at the bottom of the screen.”

The process was introduced to help Production houses expand their viewership globally and be able to reach every individual in the world. This would bring more views to their productions which would transform into more income for them. You can also look at it from the vice versa motive whereas more people could interact and enjoy watching foreign movies, which is something that never used to happen. As much as subtitles offer an array of benefits and advantages to both film producers and viewers, it is a process that takes a lot from a lot of professionals. It is not as easy as ABC, there is a lot that goes into creating subtitles.

In this article, we will look at some main and minor facts about subtitling. You might find out things that you already know but I guarantee you won’t miss one fact that will bring a light bulb moment to you.


We are all aware that the subtitling process is a form of an audio-visual translation. There are specific rules and guidelines that must be followed in order for one to create perfectly synchronized subtitles. Depending on what exactly you are working on, it might be a professional film or a normal YouTube video, always seek the help of professionals. A lot of professionals are needed for a subtitling process to be a success. This is one fact that many people don’t know. Yes, you can create your own subtitles at home as an amateur, but film production houses always source for professionals to get the entire process done. These professionals are:

  1. Transcribers – These are professionals that create scripts from an audio or video recording. They usually prepare scripts ready for translation.
  2. Translators– These are professionals that translate the scripts from the source language to the target language.
  3. Spotters– These are professionals who create audio timestamps that synchronize with the scripts that have been translated.
  4. Subtitlers– These are professionals who ensure that subtitles have been created. What they do is to make sure that subtitles go line in line with the lip movements of the audio and shorten or expand them if need be.

Creating Subtitles

Another fact that most people don’t know, is that the creation of subtitles is not as simple as just translating a bunch of texts and just placing them at the bottom of a screen. A lot goes into the creation of subtitles. As mentioned above, you can see that there are different professionals needed for the different stages of subtitling. Since subtitling is an art, it is important to note that it will have space and time restrictions for it to be perfectly synchronized with the audio and video format.

Transcribers should be able to create conclusive scripts and not miss out on any important points. If any points are missed then it means the subtitles will be totally off and this means that the whole project will be messed up.

Translators need to be sure to translate the scripts while still bearing in mind that the context of the original film is maintained. Therefore, invest in a translator who is a native speaker of your target language. This will make sure that your translated scripts are in line with the cultural, linguistic, and technical aspects of the target language. He/she must also make that the translations fit the timestamps that will be created by the spotters in order for both the texts and audio to synchronize well.

Creating subtitles is a complex process, therefore, let no one lie to you, that it is just placing texts at the bottom of a screen.

Subtitling Cons

Just like in any other form of film production process, you will never miss cons and limitations. The same applies to the subtitling process where the cons are things you must work around in order for the process to turn out perfectly.

First, when the translations are being done, the translator must always know the cultural, linguistic, and technical aspects of the target language. The target language is the language that the audio is being translated into in text format. This is usually done to ensure that, the context of both the audio and text content is the same and nothing has been misappropriated. This has to be followed to the letter in order to avoid offending your target audience by wrongly translating certain words or sentences.

Translators are only allocated two lines per subtitle on a screen at a time. This is usually a problem when the statement is too long in its original form or too long when being translated into the target language. Translators must make sure the context and meanings are maintained and still stick to the number of characters expected per line. Each line is limited to 35 characters including symbols and spaces. The maximum number of characters for the two lines of subtitles in a video frame is 70. Subtitles also have time limits. Subtitles have a minimum length of one second. The maximum duration of subtitles seen on screen is six seconds. It is important to note that this is not usually set in stone and since subtitling is an art sometimes these rules might be broken.

Reading Speed Of Viewer

Not everybody has the same reading speed, and this is because some people can read a 2000-page novel in two days and another person will take a whole three months to finish the same novel. If that’s the case, now imagine a scenario where everything you have to read appears and disappears as other texts keep popping up. It can be extremely overwhelming for an individual who is not a fast reader. The actual number of characters in the subtitle and its duration remaining on-screen will also depend on the average reading speed of the viewer. The average viewer needs about four seconds to read two lines of subtitles containing 70 characters or approximately 12 words. When the time is short, minimal characters should be used.

The change in camera shots also affects the duration in which subtitles for a specific scene stays in the frame. All these are factors that must be considered so that a viewer’s reading is not affected. The sole reason subtitles are created is so that viewers can Interact with them and so putting the viewers into consideration is important.

Now that we have looked at the key facts about subtitling we will look at some small unknown facts about the process too.

  • In comparison to other audio-visual translation processes, subtitling is more cost-efficient. There are two known forms of audio-visual translation and they are subtitling and dubbing. If you are looking to spend less and still benefit fully for your audio films, then subtitling is the way to go. Also, more people enjoy watching films with subtitles than dubbed films.
  • To ensure a high-quality level of subtitles you need to get professional translators who will ensure that the subtitles are accurate and follow the cultural, linguistic, and technical aspects of any language.
  • Subtitles don’t really receive the recognition they deserve because it isn’t a process that is taken as seriously as the main film production process. The scriptwriter, director, artists, editors, cinematographers, costume designers, set designers, musical directors, makeup artists, production crew, and more are always given credit for their work but more times than not subtitlers don’t get any credit.

Other Posts