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Subtitles: Top mistakes to be avoided while doing Subtitling


Subtitling is both a technical as well as a creative process of translating speech and displaying it as text on the screen, as the video progresses. Subtitling is truly an art and has the capability to express the character’s personality or even tamper with it. Audiovisuals have taken over the globe, so it is necessary to translate them so that people understand them effectively. This is a means of reaching people, increasing reach and enhancing growth.

Subtitling needs to be done properly and carefully. We have seen multiple incidences where a misspelled word or lack of proper punctuation can cause misunderstandings and can become viral. In other situations, however, such mistakes become impossible to ignore and the video becomes hard to watch. The audience would be confused, your ratings would drop and overall you would incur a big loss which could have been avoided.

Subtitling errors are the bridge between success and failure in video content. A bad translation would cut down your bond with your viewers and would lower your ratings. Check out these handpicked top subtitling errors and how you can easily avoid them:

Word by Word Translation in Subtitles

Words hold different meanings in different languages. If you opt for a word to word, literal translations, then you might end up creating embarrassment. You have to translate while keeping the meaning intact. For example, you can’t have a word to word translation for “it’s raining cats and dogs”, otherwise the result would be gibberish. It would make no sense if you write that animals are falling from the sky in a foreign language. Every language has its own expression for a metaphor and other things. You need to find such an expression that fits the context. So, you need to know the language, to which you are translating, well enough.

Unnatural line breaks reduce subtitles quality 

Subtitles need to follow the natural way of speaking. The lines should come after a clause or after the end of a phrase. If you randomly split the text, then the reader would find difficulty in following the lines. Your audience needs to be able to watch the video and read the subtitles at the same time. If viewers have to read a sentence twice, to understand its meaning, then you will end up losing the audience. You must edit all the unnatural breaks in your subtitles. Even if you have to rewrite the entire translation, go for it. This would ensure that the subtitles are easy to follow while watching the video at the same time. It also makes sure that the public understands the meaning of effortlessly and correctly.

Punctuation is must in Subtitles

Even in subtitling, exclamation marks and question marks are very important if you wish to keep your context clear. Commas, colons, semicolons, and apostrophes are equally important and not to be neglected because they emphasize ideas and bring the character alive. Without punctuations, your subtitles won’t make much sense and the viewers would be confused trying to understand what the character is going through or trying to express. Grammar fluency is a must criterion to avoid such errors. So, using proper punctuation would be good practice and would enhance the quality a lot.

Illegible Texts

If your subtitle text is too small or maybe too big or even a color that is not quite visible with the background color, then there is a high chance that the viewers won’t be able to read those. There are millions of users accessing videos through their smartphones. It is very important not to make such mistakes else you would end up degrading the user experience. You should pay good attention to the background. You must always avoid white letters on a white background, gray letters on a dark backdrop and black letters on black background. A good quality translated subtitle would go unnoticed if it is not easily readable at the bottom of the screen. As a good subtitler, you must test all your subtitled videos on various devices, to make sure that people can easily read them in all sorts of circumstances.

Automated Translation 

No software created till now is efficient enough to replace human intelligence. Machine translation or google translation would never be as efficient as you translating the script because it won’t be able to keep the meaning intact. Softwares will not be able to translate sarcasm, humor, irony or even emotions. Your subtitles need to engage the viewers. They can’t be dull or boring and automated translation is dull and hard to relate. If you fail to provide your audience with high quality valid translated subtitles, then they would find it hard to engage with the video.

All characters with the same voice

A character is called so because it has its own uniqueness and differentiability. So, you must make sure each one of your characters gets its own particular voice and style of speech. You have to identify a character’s way of speaking and do justice to it by bringing that alive through your translated subtitles. You cannot make everyone’s speech the same way, otherwise, your subtitles would be monotonous and boring. Your subtitles need to be casual when the character speaks in a casual way and formal when the character speaks in a formal manner. You need to incorporate the details as much as possible. Your translation needs to reflect the personalities of your characters.

Too long phrases in Subtitles

When it comes to subtitles, things are not quite easy to execute. Normally, you cannot have more than two lines of text on the screen. Otherwise, there would be a risk of covering the video. Besides, people don’t have all the time in the world to read everything on the screen. If the image is not relevant to the text displayed on the screen, the video cannot be watched like that. The video gets confusing and the audience stops watching after getting frustrated. Subtitles need to be on the screen only when the characters are speaking or when there is some or the other sort of audio. Too long phrases would not ensure proper readability and hence the confusion. Being a subtitler, you need to properly meet these technical requirements.

Wrong Timing

If the character is speaking something and your subtitles read something else, then nothing could be a better error than that. This is a very common mistake, you need to make sure of the proper timing of your subtitles. The audience would neither want to read the speech before the character conveys it nor after the character has already spoken it. Otherwise, you would have made a useless subtitle. Make sure to run the subtitles on the designated video to check its timing and cueing and make the necessary edits. Subtitles need to be correctly timed and placed for their effective and desired results.

Subtitling without having audio-visual

You cannot be making subtitles with just the script without having the audio-visual material. Otherwise, you will be bound to create loads of mistakes. When you don’t have the audiovisual, plenty of details would not be known to you and you are bound to make all sorts of errors which could have otherwise been avoided. Lack of context would lead to a constant conflict between subtitles and the visual information being received by the audience.