Subtitling is translating audio and video file formats from one language into another in a text format. As a beginner subtitler, it is very important to look out for tips that will make your career worthwhile and also be aware of some challenges that you will have to face in your line of work. The reason I say, you will have to face is because there is no other way about it. These are challenges that are inevitable. In this article, we will look at some of these tips and a further look at the challenges you need to brace yourself for.
3 Important Beginner Subtitling Tips
1. Think About your Subtitle Skill Set
Just like in any other profession, being a subtitler requires you to have a particular set of skills. You might wonder what other skills do I need apart from translation. Seeing that subtitling is high key about translation, I see why a lot of beginner subtitlers focus more on bettering their language skills than anything else. Subtitling is an entire process that needs transcription, time stamping, translation, and post-production work. This means that you have to perfect all these other skills as much as you perfect your language skills. Your writing skills must also be impeccable in the sense that your grammar is flawless and that spelling and punctuations are also used properly and so on and so forth.
2. Do Some Quick Subtitling Practice.
Constantly we hear people say practice makes perfect. The only way you get to a point where you are a sort after subtitler is through practice and more practice. Practice makes you more comfortable and confident in your skills and what you offer. The videos you do your practice on may also come in handy when creating a portfolio of your subtitling works when you look for paying jobs. You can have the most amazing skill set but clients are always reluctant to entrust their work to someone who has no portfolio of previous works. This can also allow you to develop new tricks that will make subtitling fun for you.
3. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
When starting out you will be tempted to take on so much work in the name of, “It is hard to get a subtitling job”. It sure is hard in the beginning but this means nothing because nothing is easy in the beginning. The worst thing you can do is put all your eggs in one basket and decide to make yourself unavailable for certain projects when you can get other great paying projects as you continue in your career. When you find a company, you are happy working with, it can be tempting to take on as much work as possible and dedicate your loyalty and your time to that company. Working in freelance video subtitling is very different from a permanent position within subtitling or closed captioning company. As a freelancer, whoever you choose to outsource your services to, there will be a notice period and no guarantee of work. The market can be volatile and therefore it’s important to work for many transcription and subtitle companies to make sure where work dries up, there is an alternative.
Where Possible, Make Money to Spend Money (not vice versa)
Challenges Met During Subtitling.
1. Multiple Speakers
We all watch films from time to time and if you don’t, then I don’t know what you do with your free time. You have definitely noticed instances in a film where two actors speak at the same time. These scenes are extremely hard to create subtitles for. For starters, you don’t even know which character said what and at what time. At times, multiple speakers at once, this means that some words were inaudible. You need to be really keen and able to fill in the inaudible parts with statements that will make sense with the context of the film. Imagine having to deal with this and also deal with screen space and pacing.
And also making sure that the corresponding text is visible as people are speaking and that readers can finish reading each subtitle before the next appears. It gets more challenging dealing with really fast-paced conversations and arguments between multiple speakers.
2. Text Length
The length of a subtitle is another challenge that you will always face in subtitling. Remember where I mentioned that subtitling is high key about translation which is usually in cooperated with a couple of other processes? This is where the length challenge comes to play. A statement in one language might end up either being longer or shorter in another language. With this in mind, you should be able to expand and contract particular texts in order for them to be in line with the timestamps of a scene in the original audio. This becomes quite challenging if you are not a native speaker of your target language and don’t know which other way a text can be said for it to be a perfect fit in terms of length for subtitling.
3. Text Length vs. Dialogue Speed
We already mentioned that coming up with perfect text lengths is one challenge that a lot of subtitlers face. We also mentioned that the only way one will deal with this challenge is to be in a position where they can expand and contract the statements and still make sense according to the context of the film. Another aspect that gets affected by the length of the text is the dialogue speed. When dialogue speed in the footage outpaces the viewers’ reading speed, the subtitles need to be rearranged. The best solution is to show the subtitles slightly before the speaker so that viewers have enough time to read. If this is not possible, the subtitler needs to adapt the text to fit the screen. Although it is not an ideal solution, by compromising we can deliver better results.
By now it goes without saying that translation is a big part of creating subtitles. We also need to note that there a lot of different styles of translation. It is important to not create subtitles that are literary translated from the original language into the target language. Literal translation for subtitles will lead into poorly and out of context translated texts. This will confuse the viewers and the intended message will not be received. There are three things that must be considered when doing translations for subtitling. These three things are the cultural, linguistic, and technical aspects of the target language. Language in subtitles should have a natural flow and be easy to read so that the experience remains enjoyable and realistic.
5. Font Size
I wrote an article about questions you should ask your client before commencing on a subtitling project and the size and color of the fonts came up as questions. This is how I know that this is one challenge that a lot of subtitlers have to face. The size of a font is more of a challenge than the color because the color is more of a preference thing. Font size can be a challenge, as the text must be legible from all devices and screen sizes. Font size needs to adapt to the screen dimensions and always remain clear and comprehensible. You are creating subtitles for your audience to interact with and if they cannot, then that’s a failed project. Regardless of the device, they are using, the fonts must be legible, clear, and comprehensible.
In case you didn’t know I’m here to tell you that translating a tone is one of the hardest things in the history of translation. A particular statement said in a particular tone, is really hard to be translated into another language and still keep the same tone. In films and television shows, the dialog is informal, rather than formal, technical language. While this may make translating subtitles seem easier, it isn’t necessarily so. It takes a great translator to do translations for tones and voice ranges. The audience needs to get a full feel of the original film through the subtitles and you as the subtitler need to make sure they do.
7. Cultural adaptation/localization
Different cultures come with their unique sets of region-specific slang, idioms, and cultural references. Some of these culture-specific meanings can get lost in translation when being translated to make sense in another culture. This a challenge that a lot of subtiters have to deal with considering the fact that most film scriptwriters use expressions that are language and culture-specific. However, if the translator has specific knowledge regarding the regionalisms and culture of the country or region where the film was produced, they will have a competitive edge. For example, a Spanish to English translator with a very strong knowledge of Mexican culture and informal language, but who has very little knowledge of these aspects regarding other Spanish-speaking countries, will translate a Mexican film much better than he or she could do with one from another country, such as Spain or Argentina.
Being knowledgeable about the information that will make your career path worthwhile is very important. I hope that with this information you will be ready to take on the challenges head-on and use the tips to make your journey interesting and less tormenting,