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How To Avoid Subtitle Translation Mistakes?

Posted on: May 22, 2023 by admin

What Is Subtitle Translation? 

Subtitle translation is the process of translating audio from a video into written subtitles in a different language. The most common example of subtitle translation is foreign language films. If you’ve ever watched a foreign film in a language you don’t understand, you probably have used subtitles to follow the dialogue. Subtitles are different from closed captions, which are usually used for people that are deaf or have hearing difficulties and may include written descriptions of sounds in the video (e.g. phones ringing, doors slamming or laughter). The subtitle translation process can be particularly challenging because it involves turning spoken dialogue into written text and must be timed with the video’s visual cues.


Subtitle Translation Mistakes

Most people can process spoken words faster than they can read. So the task of turning long complicated dialogue into concise text that can be read easily and quickly comes with a number of challenges. However, it is possible to produce easy-to-read translated subtitles if you avoid these common mistakes.

Incorrect Punctuation

Getting the correct punctuation in translated subtitles can be tricky. As too much punctuation can make the text take up too much space while not enough can render the text unintelligible. Punctuation is essential to making sentences easy to comprehend.

Unreadable Subtitles

Subtitles that are written in a font that is too small or in a colour that doesn’t contrast enough with the background can make it difficult to read.  Though using a smaller font may be tempting as it allows you to fit more characters across the screen, this should be balanced with readability. When it comes to choosing the colour of subtitles, it will depend on the video and translators should watch the entire video with subtitles to ensure they are readable.


Incorrect Timing

Perhaps the biggest challenge of video subtitling is timing. When translating dialogue, the subtitle should appear on-screen as the character is speaking. Similarly, if a voice-over is being translated, the subtitles should appear on the screen at the same time as the material. If the subtitle comes up too early or too late, this can cause confusion and ruin the flow of the video. Good timing can be difficult to achieve when there is a rapid dialogue with multiple people speaking. Translators should review the footage with subtitles to ensure the viewing experience is as seamless.


Too Many Words Per Line

The words of phrases in different languages can vary greatly even if they are conveying the same idea. When translating phrases, the translation can sometimes become longer or shorter than the source text. This can cause issues during subtitling as the on-screen text may become too long to read at the time it’s being displayed. Translators may need to simplify phrases and remove unnecessary details that aren’t crucial to the meaning of the subtitles.


How To Avoid Subtitle Mistakes?

Poorly applied subtitles can make a video difficult or even impossible to understand. So what are some of the most critical steps you should take to avoid common subtitle mistakes?

Time Your Subtitles

Good timing is everything when it comes to making a subtitled video watchable. Your subtitles should flow and sync closely with the verbal dialogue. You should also ensure that subtitles remain on the screen long enough for an average person to easily read the words. As subtitles that are timed too fast will lead to frustration from the viewer.

Don’t Obstruct Important Visuals or Subtitles

There’s nothing more annoying as a viewer than having a block of text obstructing important visual information. While placing subtitles on the bottom of the screen is a safe bet, you may need to adjust the placement for certain scenes if there are important visuals displayed there. Similarly, you need to ensure that the video doesn’t obstruct the subtitles, making them difficult or impossible to read.


Use Human Subtitle Translation

Machines and technology are important tools to help deliver great subtitling, but solely relying on machine translation is a surefire way to end up with sub-par subtitles that is unintelligible and excessively difficult to follow. As you can see, the process of subtitle translation is very complex and requires human input to ensure the end product is satisfactory. Relying on machine translation alone will likely lead to mistranslations, poor placement and readability.


If you require subtitle translation, you’ll want to ensure you avoid common errors such as incorrect punctuation, poor timing and unreadable subtitles. At Speak Your Language, we are experienced in creating error-free translated subtitles that are easy to follow. Contact us today to discuss your subtitle project.