Everything You Need to Know about Subtitling

February 22, 2023

With the amount of time people spend watching videos growing rapidly, subtitles are increasing in importance to viewers. Simply think about how subtitles are available on most major video platforms such as YouTube and Netflix. Recently, research suggested that subtitles are playing a more significant than ever role in businesses, which may come as a surprise to many who can only think of Hollywood blockbusters and TV dramas when speaking of subtitles.

What is subtitling and where is it needed?

Subtitling is a popular form of audiovisual translation, where the spoken content of a video is translated and appears as text simultaneously with the audio. Over the years, subtitles have undoubtedly become indispensable to the film and television industries, allowing the shows to reach to audiences on a worldwide scale. However, translating blockbusters is not their only function. With so much video content circulating around nowadays, businesses from all sectors are finding themselves in need of subtitles for both external and internal communication. Examples of materials that may need subtitles include:

· Promotional videos and commercials

· Company presentations

· Internal training and guide videos

Video marketing has been growing dramatically, from statistics, about 86% of businesses use video as a marketing tool in 2021, up from 61% in 2016. The reason is that 84% of people, said that they have been convinced to buy a product or service after watching a company’s video. At the same time, globalisation has accelerated in recent years, allowing companies to do business worldwide. Needless to say, adding subtitles to your promotional videos will help you reach more diverse audiences.

Except external promotional materials, subtitles can also be of help in companies’ internal communications. It is beyond doubt that effective communication within the corporation helps create employees who are engaged, connected and productive. Providing subtitles in training videos or instructional videos (for example how to operate and use office equipment) might be a good place to start since it is scientifically proved that subtitles can increase retention of knowledge and help audience better understand audiovisual materials!

Key Considerations for Subtitling

Have you ever watched a subtitled movie where you only had enough time to scan through the text and thus perhaps lost visual information, rather than reading and watching the video simultaneously? That might be because the following points had not been fully considered:

· Readability

Every content has to be translated taking into account the uses of the language and the cultural background of the target audience. This is especially important with subtitles since most viewers are relying on the text to help them understand what is going on in the video. In this case, literal translation and machine translation which may not be capable of identifying idioms and other cultural elements are probably not the best choice.

· Line length

Subtitles are usually limited to 35 characters per line, which equals to 14 Chinese characters. It is also advised to have no more than two lines of text on the screen at one time. That leaves you even less characters to your control than a tweet! Subtitles therefore may have to be more concise than the audio of the video is, which is also why it is always recommended to seek human subtitling services, as they will be able to cut down the word count without sacrificing any meaning.

· Time on screen

It is good practice to give viewers enough time to read the subtitles, and a reading speed of around 170 words per minute for English and 200 words for Chinese is recommended. That equates to roughly 3 seconds per line for both languages, which is usually slower than the dialogue—another reason why a skilled subtitler may be needed to make the texts more succinct.

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