What Are The Challenges Faced During Subtitling?


The DubbingKing Software - A Comprehensive Audio-Visual Translation (AVT) Software For Windows

The Dubbing King software caters for various Audio-Visual Translation (AVT) modes. It is used for subtitling, translation and the dubbing processes.


Have you ever thought to yourself or asked yourself what exactly goes into creating film subtitles, the challenges that subtitlers go through in order for them to create perfect subtitles for our enjoyment? If your answer is yes, then we will be looking at exactly that in this article. Just like in all other professional film processes like time stamping, transcribing and translation, subtitling also has its fair number of challenges that if not keenly looked at one might make a lot of errors. We will first look at what subtitling is and what it entails before we get into the challenges.

What is subtitling?

According to Wikipedia Subtitles are text derived from either a transcript or screenplay of the dialog or commentary in films, television programs, video games usually displayed at the bottom of the screen, but can also be at the top of the screen if there is already text at the bottom of the screen.

In lay-mans language, subtitling is adding written texts on a film that usually appear on top or the bottom of the screen. The texts can either be of the same language as the original audio or a different language. 

It is also translation localization where instead of translating the audio sound to another language through a process called dubbing, it’s only the written texts, synchronized with the original film.

Why are subtitles important?

You might wonder why the use of subtitles is important and why a lot of film producers have opted to jump on the bandwagon. We have already established that subtitling is localization. Video subtitling enables your video content to be accessible internationally to all markets and in all native languages. This breaks down language barriers which improve cultural awareness and enhances the manner in which we share information.

Challenges Experienced during subtitling

Apart from dubbing, subtitling is one area where localization used and translators are more active. It can be such a complex process that needs a lot of concentration and professionals to handle it. We use it in mediums such as films, TV and training videos, to healthcare and medical research,

Below we will look at the different challenges subtitlers experience:

  1. Multiple Speakers.
    • This is one of the biggest challenges. If you understand how the subtitling process works, then it’s easy to understand why this might a problem. The thing about subtitles is that you have to capture every reaction and word uttered by every character in a film. Regardless of whether the subtitles are being translated, multiple speakers speaking at the same time make it complicated to know who said what and reacted to what at what time. Normal conversations might be hard to keep up with now, just imagine having to keep up with multiple speakers at the same time. Not only do you need to think about screen space and pacing, but you also have to make sure the corresponding text is visible as people are speaking and that readers can finish reading each subtitle before the next appears. Things get even more tricky when you have to deal with fast-paced conversations, arguments, or debates between half a dozen people. This is usually in case of crowd scenes or fight scenes. These are the hardest scenes to make subtitles on, but with a lot of concentration, a professional subtitler might hack it perfectly.
  2. Text Length
    • Did you know that different languages have a different number of characters and words for a statement meaning the same thing? If you didn’t know, then I’m letting you know. This becomes a big challenge when subtitling because as much as you have to translate the statements you need to keep in mind that some statements will be super long and you need to find shorter sentences that mean the same thing and have the same context as the original film. Keeping each subtitle short enough to fit on the screen so the viewer can read it easily and quickly is not all that simple. This mostly happens when translating a statement to the English language because English statements more times than not are short and straight to the point. 
    • There is a specific set of rules applied when creating subtitles and a good example that usually gets affected by this is the length of a subtitle on the screen at a time. Text length can be a challenge when subtitling because of limited space, as subtitlers must not cut the text off, but adding a lot of texts can take up too much of the screen display.
  3. Text Length vs. Dialogue Speed
    • The essence of watching a film is to relax, unwind and enjoy the content. When we introduce subtitles in a film, we shouldn’t take away from those three particular factors. We use subtitles to localize a film to reach more people so when we compromise the speed and length of the subtitles with then the audience finds it hard to keep up with the film. I have heard people say they don’t enjoy using subtitles on films because most times the subtitles are usually not in line with the dialogue speed. When dialogue speed in the footage outpaces the viewers’ reading speed, they rearrange the subtitles. The best solution is to plan and show the subtitles slightly before the speaker so that viewers have enough time to read. This is more of a compromise than a solution because it also makes the subtitles a bit off with a few seconds or so. If doing that is not an option, the subtitlers usually adapt the text in a way that fits the screen and still makes sense. With this challenge, a lot of compromises usually come to play to make the subtitles more realistic and not annoying for the viewers. 
  4. Style
    • When translating for localization it’s always advisable to do a direct word-to-word translation which usually destroys the meaning and context of the original content. A lot of translators usually use translating services like google translate to do the translation between languages, however, frowned upon by film producers. That is the reason we usually do a translation for localization using a group of translators who have a great understanding of the two languages they are working with. This is to make sure that when translating subtitles, we make an extra effort not to include literal translations. Examples include localizing length or weight measurements and time based on the region and language of the intended audience. Translated subtitles should make as much sense if not more and have a natural flow and be easy to read, just like the original content. What this does, is that it ensures that the content remains as enjoyable and interesting to the audience and doesn’t take away or downplay the original content.
  5. Font Size
    • Have you ever shied away from reading an e-book or an article because the font used was not as captivating, or it was rather too small for you to bother reading? I usually get disinterested with certain write-ups because of a font. This is the same case with subtitles. Finding a balance between a good font, legible from all devices and can still fit all the words in all screen sizes is a challenge for subtitlers. Font size needs to adapt to the screen dimensions and always remain clear and comprehensible. It is usually good to ensure that you have the texts in bold and have spaces in between the letters. Some texts are usually longer than others and if you end up using certain fonts, it might either make the subtitles not fit the screen might affect the speed and pace in comparison with the original dialogue. It is very important to be keen when choosing a font to use, which is also not an easy thing that comes automatically.
    • They usually say that some of these film production processes, if not all, usually need professionals with extensive experience to handle them. This is because they require a high level of understanding and concentration, and having an amateur deal with them usually proves to be a problem.  However, with the right experience and skill set, we can create and deliver a high-quality product, ensuring a wide audience can enjoy and use the material in the same way as the original.
    • There are a lot of software out there and professional individuals who have specialized specifically in creating film subtitles, but the software I stand by and vouch for the Dubbing King.

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