July 8, 2024

The option to select or search for subtitles is so common when we watch a movie, a series or even informational material in another language that we rarely stop to think about how those friendly little letters ended up on our screen.

Translation for subtitling is part of the audiovisual translation industry and today, although very commonplace, it is complex in nature. Just as in marketing translation or software localization, the product requires intercultural translation in addition to interlingual translation.


The translation for subtitling process consists of keeping the original media audio and inserting compressed text right at the bottom, taking into account that it takes less time to speak than to read that same translated excerpt. All of this has to happen without semantic loss, meaning that the original meaning of the message has to be conveyed.

Compressing content is crucial to match the subtitle’s timing and spotting, as well as taking into account the specific qualities of the environment in which the material will be presented, as these standards are restricted to each medium. For example, in the movie theater there is a preference for longer subtitles, while for TV and its variations (closed channels, DVD, etc.) shorter and more segmented subtitles are preferred. Numerous software programs for creating and editing subtitles can be used for these applications, many with free licenses.



In the first step, it is advisable for the translator to have contact with the media to be subtitled and a script, in order to prevent ambiguity. In this phase, some problems will be identified that might arise when generating the subtitle for the target language.  After this first contact, the translator assembles a glossary of terms for material with a particular vocabulary, such as a documentary on space engineering or a medical nature series.

The translator should also abide by some basic principles, such as specialization of the material, the parameters dictated by broadcast media, and the time limits and rules imposed by the customer, whether an agency or the material’s producer.

Simultaneous synchronization of speech and subtitle is not an easy task and it is something that viewers, with some knowledge of the source language, tend to question a great deal when they see that, often, some spoken words are not shown in the subtitle. This happens because the subtitle shouldn’t be a literal translation, but rather condensed phrases.

This is important both from an aesthetic point of view (spotting), and for the scope of the message in relation to a context, because in addition to the confusion that a literal translation can cause, synchronization between image and subtitle is also paramount. After all, in audiovisual vehicles, symbols and signs lead to the receiver’s understanding.

Even if the translator is not responsible for entering subtitles via subtitling programs, he/she should be aware of how they work and basic rules to follow standards and also ensure that the translation flows smoothly.

With ZAUM, your audiovisual material is in good hands. We handle subtitling for institutional videos, classes, lectures, scientific documentaries and other content requiring the guarantee of absolute fidelity and terminological accuracy, resulting from the work of translators and proofreaders specialized in different areas.

Source: – Translation for Subtitling, its pitfalls and difficulties – Peculiarities of translation work in subtitling: an analysis of this process in the movie “Terminator Two: Judgment Day”
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