Raising the Bar for Subtitling Practices

Raising the Bar for Subtitling Practices

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Written by guest blogger Laura Yie

Although subtitles are increasingly common, the standard of professional subtitles can vary greatly. I’m always shocked to see professional subtitles that are near impossible to follow or linguistically inaccurate, because these subtitles are the means for thousands of audience members to access the TV series or film. With so many audience members dependent on the quality of subtitles, it’s crucial that we talk about how to raise the bar for subtitling practices.

The Industry

As is the case in many sectors of work nowadays, a lot of downward pressure is placed on time and cost when it comes to subtitling jobs, with near-impossible deadlines a frequent occurrence. Sometimes subtitling can appear to be an afterthought; months of meticulous work can go into creating a TV series or film, but the subtitling of this material is a last minute job. I think we could see some big improvement in the quality of subtitling from directors and producers taking a real interest in the subtitling and allowances for more generous deadlines for the process.

Training, research & guidelines

I have written previously about how educational programmes and industry guidelines can help to improve the standards of translations as a whole. Training programmes and research into subtitling practises are still relatively new, but in my opinion, they can be crucial for understanding how best to negotiate the technical restrictions of subtitling. For example, since we can listen to new information faster than we can read it, subtitlers must learn to deal with time and space restrictions to ensure there is enough time for subtitles to be read. The findings of research into best practice for subtitling can be put directly into professional use by helping to inform company guidelines.

Taking subtitling to the next level

To take subtitles to the next level, I think the more knowledge and appreciation subtitlers can have about film and film-editing the better. Subtitles should be part of the audiovisual language of a film or TV show. When subtitles clash with what’s on screen, such as when a subtitle starts just before a shot change, instead of appearing in time with or after the shot change, they can cause a needlessly jarring effect on viewers.

I also believe there is a lot of potential for increased creativity and art in subtitling, pushing on the boundaries of what subtitling is. There has been an increase in very artistic lyric videos using kinetic typography, which can create attractive visual effects as lyrics appear on screen. Subtitlers who take an interest in the basic animation of words on screen could combine a rich understanding of subtitling with increased artistic possibilities for their subtitles, creating exciting professional prospects, especially for the subtitling of advertisements and music videos.

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