A Simple Guide to Choosing a Subtitling and Captioning Service

Subtitling and captioning are not quite the same thing but are related when in the context of being used in videos. It is important to choose a professional subtitling service when your video is to be released in places where people do not speak the same language as those in the film script or are deaf.

What is a subtitle?

Subtitles are short summaries of what someone is saying which are displayed clearly at the bottom of a video. Ideally, they appear just when needed, i.e. not too early and not too late, and are long enough for viewers to get the message, i.e. follow the speech or utterances of the characters in the video. Subtitles may be in the same language as the language used by the characters in the video or different. Subtitles that are composed in the same language help to provide an overview or précis of each person’s speech. This is basically to cater to those people who find it hard to hear or are deaf. They may also be turned on (if available) in certain circumstances when an audio version of the video is not suitable, e.g. if used in a library or educational institution and earphones are not available.

When a video is released outside of the country where the video was made and an audience who does not speak that language is targeted, then subtitles are typically translated into the relevant language. Very popular films and documentaries, for example, may have dozens of different versions of subtitles, each available for a different audience.

What is captioning?

Captions are typically very short words or phrases used to highlight a part of a video or documentary. Like subtitles, they may be used whenever someone who is hard of hearing or deaf is watching the video or when it is not acceptable for there to be sound. Captions, like subtitles, are typically translated when the video is intended for audiences who don’t speak the language of the characters in it.

Why is there a need for professional subtitling services?

There are two major challenges faced by subtitling services. The first is making the subtitle fit the actual speech or sounds heard in the video. The second is when the subtitle is translated. The second challenge is then added to the first challenge!

The first challenge involves knowing how to simplify what is being said without leaving out the main message. By simplification, it is common for a subtitle not to occupy more than a single sentence; otherwise, by the time someone has read the subtitle, the video has already progressed further, leaving the person watching well behind. Also, the subtitle has to appear on the screen in a suitable place and be of the font, color, and size that is required by the video maker. The subtitle also has to appear on the screen just at the right time and be replaced by another subtitle or disappear just at the right time. 

The fact that subtitles are frequently translated means that all of the challenges listed above also have to be taken into consideration when the translated version is devised. Text used in some languages, for example, may be of different lengths when translated, so the translator has to work with the subtitler so that the length of the subtitle, its appearance, and timing still fit in with the video.

How to choose the right subtitling and captioning services for your objectives

When you choose a professional subtitling and captioning service, you will want to know which languages they are familiar with and how much experience they have with the genre of video you need subtitled or captioned. Most videos, for example, use a lot of colloquial terms and slang, so the subtitler must be able to understand all of the nuances of these words and phrases and be able to convert them into equivalent subtitles in the target language without creating confusion or offense.