Should I Use Subtitles For My Video or Film Translation?

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By Greg Ball, President of BMI

First, what is Subtitling? Here’s a brief description: Simply said, Subtitling is a method of translating a video or film into another language by using words on the screen. It’s often used for translating projects such as TV shows, commercials, training videos or marketing videos into another language.

Is subtitling the best choice for your video or film?

You have other options such as dubbing, voice over or captioning. Which is the best translation technique for your project? Sometimes there’s a simple answer, but there are several variables to consider. Here are the pros and cons as I see it.

Pros & Cons of Subtitling 

First the Pros:

Subtitles are cheaper! Of all the translation methods, subtitling is the least labor and resource intensive and least expensive. Consider that you don’t have to worry about choosing actors, or dealing with accents, acting skill, or voice timing. There are no fees for studio time. This makes subtitles the least expensive method of language translation, and sometimes the only option if you need to watch your budget.

Subtitles are the norm in some countries. In many locations subtitles are very common. Since people are used to seeing them and comfortable with reading while watching a video or film, this combined with the lower cost may make subtitling the translation style of choice for many projects.

Subtitles allow you to keep the emotion. By using subtitling, you permit the viewer to hear the original voices. This allows for the real essence of the meaning to come through. So if you’re using professional actors, their emotions will be heard in their voices. If you’re using non-professional talent such as in interviews, the sincerity and true feelings will come through. Sometimes this is really essential to your project, and this would make subtitles your option of choice.

Cons:

While reading subtitles, viewers could miss important on-screen activity.  The most obvious of cons, viewers must read at the same time that they’re watching the on-screen action. If there’s a lot going on that requires concentration, this could make it difficult to get everything they need from the video or film. For example this might be particularly challenging for a training video where a procedure is being demonstrated on-screen. In these cases you’ll want to consider other methods of video translation.

Some less experienced translators can cause problems with subtitles.  Subtitle translation is not just a matter of knowing the languages. Frequently the written words are too long to time out properly with what’s happening on-screen. An experienced translator must not only translate, they must often use shorter replacement words that capture the true meaning of what’s being said with less words.

The experience, talent and knowledge of your translator will make the difference between success and failure for many projects. In fact, a poor subtitle translation can change the meaning in a way that changes your message or even offends the viewer. If you want to avoid problems, subtitling must be handled by experienced, talented video and film translation professionals.

Timing and Placement can be tricky. The words on the screen must be placed and sized so that they’re legible, and timed perfectly. Every film and video is unique, and to do this process well, you’ll need someone with a lot of experience and talent who will take the time and care needed with your project.

There are translation companies out there that create less than great subtitles, so it’s important to choose a translation company that can provide the level of skill you need.

So What Should I Do? 

If your video is not showing very complicated on-screen action, and your video will be played in a location where subtitles are considered acceptable, then subtitling may be your best choice.

If your video is showing complicated on-screen action, and your video will be played in a location where subtitles are not common, you may wish to look into other options such as dubbing or voice narration.

If after reading about the various techniques you’re still not certain, please feel free to call. We’d be happy to discuss your project, and there’s no obligation at all.

At Ball Media Innovations, we’re video translation experts, and we’re highly experienced at creating professional quality translations. Read more about our video translation services, or contact us using the info below, or the form on the right.

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