Best Practices for Subtitling Videos

We’ve looked to the BBC and WGBH to find some of the best practices for creating captions and subtitles. These should help you as you start captioning and translating.

7 Top Tips for Subtitling

  • Timing – captions should be timed to appear and disappear exactly when the words are spoken.
  • Translate meaning not words – sometimes it’s hard to get the meaning across when translating something from a different language. As noted in this fansubbing guide is that you don’t need to directly translate the words, just make sure to get the point across to the audience.
  • Maintain the speaker’s style of speech – taking into account register, nationality, era, etc. This will affect your choice of vocabulary.
    e.g.register: mother vs mum; deceased vs dead; intercourse vs sex;
    nationality: mom vs mum; trousers vs pants;
    era: wireless vs radio; hackney cab vs taxi.
  • Inaudible speech – speech can be inaudible for different reasons, put up a label explaining the cause.
    e.g. APPLAUSE DROWNS SPEECH
    TRAIN DROWNS HIS WORDS
  • Sound effects – show sound effect captions in lowercase italics enclosed in parentheses. It’s important to to put sound effects in between parentheses, whether its background noise or the source of the sound.

    e.g.(dog barking) (child screaming) (whispering) (giggling)

  • Don’t edit out words – like “but” “so” or “too”. They may be short but they are often essential for expressing meaning.
  • Direct quotes – direct quotes by public figures should be captioned verbatim whenever possible. Since what they’re saying is pivotal, try to get everything they’re saying, if unsure, have someone check over your work.
  • Hope these tips help as you’re creating captions and subtitles. If you have additional ideas, thoughts, or tips, we’d love to hear them in the comments.

    SourcesWGBH – Media Access Group – Captioning FAQ, BBC Subtitling Editorial Guidelines, and a fansubbing guide.

    5 thoughts on “Best Practices for Subtitling Videos

    1. Claudia Daguer

      Great subtitling tips! I especially agree to the tip that says “translate the meaning and not the words”, because direct word translation most of the time ruins the meaning of the statements. However, you need a native for these kinds of translation =)

    2. Richard Jenkins

      These are great tips. I think translating for subtitles is a really difficult task as often the direct translation of the speech does not necessarily convey the meaning intended.

    3. claudia daguer

      The best way to get high quality subtitles aside from timing is actually understanding the context and meaning behind what is said. The problem with some translations, especially those that come from non-native people, is that they translate the words literally, thus losing the very essence and meaning of what is being said.

    4. Deaf

      Subtitles are different from captioning. If you translate from one language to another, it would make sense to translate meaning. However, for captions – i.e. from a spoken to a written language (from one format to another) you need to write every word that was said exactly. As a deaf person, I prefer to know someone said in verbatim plus description of sounds. Iris a very big and a very important difference. Thanks.

    5. Bridgette Anne Murray

      I agree with Deaf on this one. However, the problems come in when the meaning of the actual words are taken into a different context. You must be really familiar with the language you are listening to so as not to confuse with the meanings of terms and words, but that is just my two cents for you!

      Bridgette of http://www.4thebeach.com

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