When was the last time you noticed the subtitles in a series, movie, video, etc.? The answer will probably be about that one time when you saw a couple of mistakes.
Subtitling is one of the few art forms that gets noticed when it’s done terribly wrong. When done well, you don’t realise that you’ve ‘read’ and ‘watched’ the movie or the episode. For this reason, subtitling experts are a rare and essential breed that help us consume visual content produced in different languages and cultural contexts.
The journey of becoming a subtitling expert can be quite challenging. Along with being proficient in the target and source language(s), the expert must understand the associated cultures. Add to this the technicalities of creating subtitles – breaking them into segments to fit specified time frames, formatting them for better visibility, etc. – and subtitling becomes an exacting profession.
Despite the integral role subtitles play in our lives, not many of us are aware of what goes into creating them. So we’ve compiled some social media posts that’ll help make you see the importance of the kind of work subtitling experts do.
If you’re a subtitling expert, sit back and nod along.
#NewYearResolution: Let’s read videos!
You might say you’re not much of a reader. However, if you turn on the subtitles while watching a series, movie, or video, we’ve got news for you – you are a reader. Well, you’re not alone. Many of us prefer to ‘read’ a movie while watching it. Subtitles help us understand the context better, catch up when we’ve missed out on dialogues, watch videos in different languages, and watch in silence when there’s a lot of noise out there or when we cannot make a sound.
Additionally, captions and subtitles have been known to improve one’s literacy skills. Last year, a group of people passionate about this cause started a campaign called #TurnOnTheSubtitles. Their demand was simple – turn on the subtitles on children’s TV by default and improve their literacy. This campaign gained incredible momentum as they urged Netflix, children’s TV channels and broadcasters to turn on the subtitles.
Ask a subtitling expert how much they’ve learned about their language via subtitles, and they’ll undoubtedly say ‘a lot!’
#LetsPlay: BIG subtitles in gaming
As per a CNet survey, 79% of gamers said they turned the subtitles on while playing. Besides helping them understand a game that’s been localised, gamers use subtitles due to a noisy environment, low-quality sound gadgets, dynamic sound mixes, etc. Although gamers use subtitles so often, they aren’t given the attention they deserve.
Any subtitling expert would agree that formatting subtitles in each video frame is as important as creating them. One of the gamers’ top complaints is that few video games manage to have properly-sized subtitles – big enough to be seen on TV from one’s couch and small enough not to ruin the gaming experience. Sometimes, subtitles appearing on or above characters also distract the gamers.
Whether it’s finding the right font size and placement of subtitles or breaking them into segments to fit the video’s context, subtitling requires the expert to put themselves into the audience’s shoes and optimise their experience.
#ToWatchOrNotToWatch: Subtitling techniques
Every subtitling expert follows a technique that suits them. Some might prefer to watch an entire movie or episode to understand the context before sitting down to create the subtitles. On the other hand, some experts translate as they watch the movie or episode. Both techniques can help experts produce quality subtitles.
Watching the video carefully helps them spot the ‘in’ and ‘out’ timings of the subtitles – when a particular segment must appear in the frame. Spotting ensures that they adhere to specified time frames and format. For instance, it is ideal to have subtitles in two short lines in each frame. An expert must break the subtitle into segments, so it matches the audio and video shots. After they’re done translating, they run another check – both, while reading them without the video and then watching them with the video. The result must be correctly displayed and synchronised subtitles.
#WearMask: Making COVID-compliant videos
While creators have always encouraged each other to add subtitles to their videos to promote accessibility, the masks have made this even more critical.
Post the pandemic, recording live videos or those in public spaces requires you to wear a mask. It’s our prerogative to protect ourselves and others in any manner we possibly can. However, wearing masks affects the sound clarity of the video. Add to this fact that your hearing disabled audience members will no longer be able to read your lips. Consequently, adding subtitles solves both issues – it increases accessibility for the Deaf or Hard-of-hearing (DHH) and helps people consume video content when the sound isn’t clear.
We’ve all been guilty of making fun of subtitling errors – whether it’s a news hour fiasco or a wrongly subtitled Avengers movie. But we rarely acknowledge the level of hard work, attention-to-detail, expertise, accuracy, and skills required for someone to create quality subtitles. With the world opening up to different cultural experiences via video content, it’s only time that we celebrate our subtitling experts for making things, emotions, and people a little less ‘foreign.’