Translating High Quality Foreign Language Subtitles

Aug 02, 2017

Content translating high quality foreign language subtitles

Here’s a translation field that is just exploding. Given the amount of visual content being published on the web – infographics photos, videos – translation of captions and subtitles is a majorly growing field. But it is also quite a specialized field, for machine translation is just not suitable. As subtitles are translated, cultural and syntactical nuances must be considered, not to mention idioms in the native content that cannot be translated verbatim. There is also the issue of videos and getting those subtitles in to match an often rapidly-moving video. All in all, translating subtitles is an acquired skill that takes practice and just plain experience.

Here are some key skill areas that will result in quality subtitle translation.

Line Lengths – Keep Them as Short as Possible

There are usually guidelines related to line lengths, with any subtitle translation order. Usually these will be between 25 and 55 characters. If no length specifications, plan on an average of 42 but go not go beyond 55.

You must also be mindful of the target language. Translating into Asian languages is especially difficult, for example, because there may be many more characters than in the original romance language. The same holds true for some of the romance languages as well. German words, for example, tend to be longer than the same in English. These things will require shortening sentences and phrases while still keeping the critical meaning.

Maintaining the Structure

When translating regular content, translators often have to change the order of wording, based upon the sentence structure of the target language. For example, in English adjectives generally come before the nouns they modify. Not so in many other languages.

While subtitles do not often come in full sentences, translators must still be mindful of structure and word order. Sometimes choices will have to be made relative to word arrangements.

The other issue with foreign subtitles is that some words are universally recognizable. In translating subtitles, especially for video content, it will be important to keep those words and phrases close to the correct footage so that subtitles do not appear to be out of sync with video content.

Reading Speed – It’s Pretty Critical

It is generally accepted that the average person reads about 250 a minute in his/her native language. Translators must keep this in mind as they craft them for video content. We’ve all been frustrated when content disappears from a screen before we have the chance to read it all.

There is software to help with this by setting a limit on reading speed that the translator determines in advance. It’s pretty pricey, however, and most free software packages do not have the reading speed feature.

Watch Your Coding of Characters

If you save with the incorrect coding, characters will not display correctly, and may even come out as nonsense or a full line of question marks. Most subtitle translators use software, like SWIFT. They can choose a language and have everything saved in the write format – it is done automatically. Free software does not offer this choice, so coding has to be completed manually – a laborious task and one that may not be error-free.

Think Carefully About Narrative

Subtitles for video are not just about conversations. Sometimes there is the need for “forced narrative” to be included. Not doing this, in fact, will confuse or frustrate the foreign language audience. They are missing something and they realize it.

Formatting and Placement Considerations

There will be times when a client simply want you to provide the translation and then s/he will burn the subtitles onto the video. At other times, you will be charged not only with the translation but with placement of the subtitles, as well as format style. You will then be choosing a font, bold, italics, perhaps color. If you are using .srt files, these options will not be offered, so use those that only when the client will be burning the subtitles. Above all, if you are doing the font, placement and formatting, be certain that they are compatible with the video content and various points of emphasis or de-emphasis.

This list should serve as a general checklist if you are translating subtitles. As stated above, this work requires some specialized skills, and patience. It takes practice to become expert. But once you do, you will be in high demand.