Today, communication through audiovisual media is stronger than ever. To keep up with the latest job opportunities, many translators have chosen to enter the field of translation. Just like all other professional translation processes such as timestamping, transcription, and translation, subtitles also have numerous challenges that, if not observed carefully, can lead to a lot of mistakes.
In this article, we’ll cover the main challenges that subtitling services providers face when dealing with subtitle localization projects.
What Is Subtitling?
Subtitles are text derived from transcripts or scripts of dialogue or commentary in a movie, television show, or video game. The subtitle texts can be in the same language as the original audio or in a different language. It is also translation localization, where instead of translating the audio into another language through a process called dubbing, it’s just written texts, synchronized with the original movie. Additionally, subtitles are extra text written on movies that usually appear at the top or bottom of the screen.
Vietnamese subtitles for a Japanese movie
Common Challenges Subtitling Services Providers Face
#1. Space Restrictions
This is a challenge that you will encounter every time you have to put translated text in a fixed space. The translation should not take up more screen space than necessary. Therefore, there are limits placed on the number of characters of the subtitles per line and the position on the screen. The client usually provides these requirements for the subtitle project. This requirement specifies the maximum number of lines per subtitle and the maximum number of characters per line.
Written text varies in length between different languages, and English tends to be shorter than most languages. That means text expansion is something that often happens when you’re translating from English into other languages. Sometimes a long line of dialogue in a scene will make it difficult for the subtitlers because you have to try to limit the subtitle text to the limit of screen space.
#2. Text Length vs. Dialogue Speed
Another problem caused by text expansion can be asking too much from the audience. When the dialogue in the scene exceeds the reader’s reading speed. The translation must appear on the screen at the same time as the actual speech. No matter how good a translation is, it’s useless if the public can’t read it fast enough to understand it.
However, if your subtitles move too fast for viewers to keep up, the dialogue in the video will overwhelm the subtitles. Most of the time the subtitles are not suitable for the speed of dialogue. When the speed of dialogue in the footage is greater than the reader’s reading speed, they will rearrange the subtitles. The best solution is to plan and project the subtitles a little before the speaker so that the viewer has enough time to read. If you can’t plan ahead for whatever reason, you may have to adjust your translations to reduce text space.
It’s not the ideal solution, but sometimes you have to compromise to get the most out of your subtitling services. With this challenge, a lot of compromises are often made to make the subtitles more realistic and not annoying to the viewer.
#3. Font Size and Conflicts
Font size is an important part of any subtitling services project. Audiences are often not interested in reading a piece of content whose fonts are used unattractively, or that are too small. Your first priority should be to make sure the text stays eligible for different screen sizes at a reasonable distance. Finding the balance between a good font that is easy to read from any device and still able to fit all words at any screen size is a challenge for subtitles. Viewers on their smartphones have a much smaller screen to work with but a significantly closer viewing distance than viewers of 4KHD TVs.
The font size that adapts to the screen size and is always clear and easy to understand is an important factor. Font weighting is also important because overly bold letters spaced narrowly can make it difficult to read. The good thing is that you should make sure that you have bold text and space between letters.
#4. Dealing With Cultural Differences
There are many types of texts that pose a challenge to the subtitlers in relation to informal language and contemporary culture. However, such difficulties are even greater for oral language. For example, an audiovisual subtitler might have to subtitle a song while trying to keep its humor, rhyme, and make sure it matches what’s being displayed on the screen. In a nutshell, you need to localize what’s happening in a scene in this country into what’s appropriate for the audience of the country you’re subtitling in their language. That’s why it’s important for people who do localized subtitles to have a deep understanding of the two languages they’re working in as well as the culture of the movie or show in the subtitle project.
#5. Multiple Speakers
This is really a challenge for subtitlers. Even relatively basic conversations can be difficult to keep up with when there are many speakers. Not only do you need to calculate the screen space to display the subtitles and the pace of the dialogue, but you also have to make sure the corresponding text is visible when people are speaking. Above all, you need to make sure the reader can read each subtitle before the next one appears.
This is certainly not an easy task, as people tend to speak faster than reading. Things become even more complicated when you are faced with fast-paced conversations, arguments or arguments between a lot of people. As a result, it can be helpful to plan ahead for your captioning services, but it’s not always an ideal solution, especially for unscripted recordings. If the speed is too fast to keep up, this will be an issue that you need to discuss with your customers.
#6. Tight Deadlines
Meeting project deadlines can also be a big challenge for subtitlers. A difficult subtitle project in such a rush is a big challenge. Therefore, you need to create a detailed schedule. A good approach is often to break tasks down into small chunks and create deadlines for each. If you have considered and found that your ability cannot meet the set deadline, strongly suggest a longer deadline.
In addition, you can keep the client informed of the progress throughout your work. You can let them know what’s causing you to procrastinate and show that you’re putting your contingency plans in place. Then, if you don’t deliver on time, they can understand and help you.