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The Growing World of Multilingual Subtitles

translation of subtitles

Last updated on January 31st, 2023 at 04:16 pm

multilingual subtitles transcription

Transcription, Translation, Subtitles, and Captions

As video translation services needs continue to grow for marketing, training, eLearning, and business use for multilingual projects, the translation of subtitles is getting a lot of traction in the world of translation services.

Translating subtitles and captions helps you to communicate with non-English speakers and it is a task that should be done by a human translator rather than an automated service such as what YouTube provides. You want to ensure your that your multilingual subtitles are a good match to the quality of your video, and the hard work and money put into the video come to fruition in the best possible way. Select a professional translation company to handle your transcription and translation which will allow you to receive a high-quality product, as well as control over the finished product with the multilingual captions.

First, Subtitles vs Captions- What’s the Difference?

Within the transcription industry, there is a difference between requesting captions and subtitles. The difference is generally agreed upon – captions are subtitles, but only in the language that the video is in. So English subtitles on an English video are considered captions rather than subtitles. You may have seen them used frequently on social media sites. Captions on these videos are rarely translated. Following this, subtitles then are captions that have been translated. (Except not always! Deaf and hard-of-hearing adjustments to captions also make them subtitles.)

And to make things even more interesting, most other languages don’t actually make a differentiation between the two! They are both just referred to by one name, and the nuance is either implied or explained in the conversation. This works just as well, as there are multiple file formats included under the umbrella of captions.

Benefits of Using Subtitles and Captions

There are plenty of benefits for adding subtitles to video, and not just because it means you’ve met accessibility needs!  Having captions helps to understand a video better when there is excessive noise, or the speaker is difficult to understand.

Subtitles allow you to not only engage a wider range of potential clients but also allow for further engagement with the clients that speak the language the video is in! Onscreen captions are more likely to catch the attention of a native speaker than one without them. Additionally, if they are in an environment where they don’t want to play audio aloud – like an open office space – they’re able to quietly consume your content.

As for non-native speakers, while they may understand the language your video is in, it is likely that they will be much more comfortable reading the captions in their own language, which will encourage a sense of trust with the client by showing that you’re willing to go the extra mile for them.

Perhaps the most immediate benefit is SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Having captions available for your video means that Google can tell what the video is about, tally keywords and associated phrases, and help you and your video rank higher!

History of Subtitles and Captions

While you’re here, we thought we’d give you brief overview of the history of subtitles in America. The first captions are believed to have been in 1972 and were open captions – meaning the text was rendered into the video. This means the captions were part of the video and could not be turned on and off. By 1973 captions were successfully broadcasted separately from the video files, which are known as closed captions. The most common rendering of captions is white text on a black background you see on televisions playing in public places. At the time this required a piece of additional equipment that was not included in televisions until accessibility laws required it.

The first subtitles that could be customized by the watcher were in CEA-708 format. This was done by the caption information being sent as binary text, allowing the receiver to decode and render the caption according to the settings the user dictated. This format was able to use significantly more characters, going beyond the Latin alphabet. Thus, this form could support many more languages and greatly improved the availability of subtitles to America.

What Do You Need to Know About Your Video?

Now that we know where captions came from and what they are useful for, let’s begin going over some considerations to take before, during, and after the production process for a video, as well as what you’ll need to provide to your translation service company for them to deliver the best work in the fastest time!

Before Production

There are a handful of things to take into consideration before you begin, and they mostly involve planning ahead for the final placement of the subtitles. Where would you like them to show up on the screen? The bottom left? The bottom center? Perhaps you’d like them at the top. This needs to be decided at the beginning of the project so the production team knows to plan accordingly! If a shot needs to have a little more space at the top or bottom to ensure the text isn’t covering someone’s face, you want to know before you shoot.

Another thing to take into consideration is how you want the captions to be formatted. If you know you’re looking for white text without an outline or background of any kind, you must keep contrast in mind lest the captions get lost in the background.

During Production Think Also About the Multilingual Production

Now that you know where the captions will land and what they’ll look like, let’s consider some of the production steps!

During script creation, it is important to keep in mind that quick speaking will cause the subtitles to have to move quickly and can impact readability. If possible, keep an eye on the dialogue speed – if you are recording in English and translating into Spanish, there can be up to a 25% expansion in sentence length, and German subtitles have an even more extreme expansion that tops out around 40%. This means the subtitles will not be up on the screen long enough for the viewer to read the full statement, and thus will constantly be struggling to catch the full meaning of them. If you can, it is also helpful to leave some room at the tail end of quickly spoken lines- the subtitles can stay visible even if the person has paused in their speech. It will help in the comprehension of the video translation.

If your original video has on-screen text, another consideration is to place them on the screen where the subtitles will not cover them. Keep track of the onscreen text you have – will you need it translated? In that case you will have two different versions of the video. Perhaps you want the translation added as a visual note within the subtitles, as such:

Or perhaps the narration addresses the onscreen text, and it can be left in the source language.

Post Production

You’ve finished your video, congratulations! Now comes the work for the localization of your video. If you prepare for its translation, the next step will be easier and faster. Please be sure to keep the final version of the script when you send the video to your translation company. Moving, changing, or shifting subtitles can incur an additional cost, as well as add time and extra steps to the project.

With JR Language Translation Services you can provide your own transcription, but that is most helpful in an actual subtitle format – actual subtitle files include the timing of the phrases down to the millisecond. There are many different formats out there, but a simple SRT file is preferred! We can also use VTT files. Please indicate the format that you prefer and any requirements for your final product.

Information to Provide Your Translation Services Provider

Here is a checklist of things that you should provide before beginning the translation of your video:

  • How you would like the onscreen text to be handled, if applicable.
  • Formatting guides from your company or from the distributor. For example, both Netflix and the BBC have publicly available rules. Stylings can include many things, such as:
    • Line length restrictions
    • Placement of subtitles both in general and in special situations (such as onscreen text)
    • Font and font Color
    • Background, outline, or neither
    • Pop-off timing
    • Paragraph alignment
    • The use of musical notes, brackets, and parentheses.
  • Your target audience. Let us know if your video is for deaf, hard of hearing, or visually impaired audiences. We need to know if we are including notes about background music, noises, or onscreen happenings for these audiences. It is also important to indicate the languages since different languages have a different expansion ratio.
  • Do you have a character limit for the subtitles?
  • Whether you would like the translations in a file to be turned on and off by the video player (closed captioning), or to have them burned into the video (open captioning).
  • If you are moving forward with open captioning, please provide the expected export specifications clearly.

Producing videos knowing that you are going to translate them will help you and your translation company prepare for success following the best practices discussed. Call JR Language today with your questions about video translation services, multilingual transcription, and the creation of multilingual subtitles. Using subtitles is a cost-effective way to localize videos into other languages and will help you communicate your message to a wider audience.

Victoria Wildow
Victoria Wildow
Since 2018, Victoria Wildow has put her problem-solving, technology-centered mind to use in her roles as a Translation Project Manager, Typesetter, and now Marketing Associate at JR Language. She is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Media Arts and Technology program. Victoria helps ensure our clients' various designs maintain the same look and feel in their new languages while also managing projects in various media. She loves learning about new technologies and is currently developing websites in her free time.