How to Choose the Right Subtitling Service for Your Video Content

Subtitling in film has been around for more than a century. When film was invented, it was almost a decade before the first “subtitles” started spelling out the dialogue in a silent film. Today, subtitling is the easiest and most inexpensive way to localize video. Good subtitling is seamless. If done right, the viewer hardly notices they are reading while watching the subtitled video. If not done well, the subtitles can be distracting and obtrusive.

When choosing a localization provider for video, consideration should be given to the following best practices:

The talent who will be working on your project should have proper credentials.  Being a native speaker is not a sufficient qualification for subtitling video. Professional translators, writers and linguists have expertise beyond simple translation.  They specialize in syntax, grammar, noun-verb agreements, idiomatic expressions and cultural differences. They are focused on conveying the meaning of your content, not the literal translation of it. After the first read-through of your original script, a good localization translator will likely have questions and notes to review with you.

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Next, ask your video localization provider about their process and quality control measures.  Here’s how it should work:

  1. You provide your video and script (if available).
  2. The localization provider transcribes and/or proofreads the existing script.
  3. An original language stem file is prepared for translation into the target language. It is constructed, one subtitle at a time. Particular attention is given to grammar, syntax, and punctuation, spelling, linguistically based line division, and formatting.
  4. The subtitles should be verified for overall aesthetics, flawless synchronization with the video, and readability.
  5. Subtitles are then timed to optimal reading-speed algorithms.
  6. They are reviewed by a linguistic professional to ensure that meaning and intent are maintained.
  7. Audio-visual editors then work with the video frame-by-frame to add customized edging, anti-alaising and drop shadows at the corresponding pixels so you never have a white-on-white effect. They check for line-breaks at pivotal linguistic points, never leaving an article or preposition hanging at the end of a line without a corresponding noun.

What can go wrong with subtitles?

  • Timing issues – is there enough time to read? A rule of thumb is to keep subtitles 2 frames on either side of a cut.
  • There are too many words on a screen.
  • Subtitling placement on the screen should be dictated by grammar, not “Christmas tree” looking line breaks of either line shorter than the other.
  • Text size can be too large or small.
  • Important sound effects should be included in the English SDH and closed-captioning streams.

How will you know that the subtitles are accurate?

Unless you speak the target language, it’s going to be tough to know whether the subtitles are correct. That’s where you have to trust your video localization provider. Make sure they have experience in the industry, a proven track record with long-standing clients and a deep network of qualified professionals.

CMI has worked with major Hollywood studios for over 30 years localizing, digitally processing and delivering video/film content to the in-flight entertainment industry. This is a global market requiring upwards of 150 unique feature-film files to be delivered daily.

Contact us for more information.

And, check out our FREE guides for more information on subtitling, dubbing, captioning and voice-overs.