The Long and Short of Subtitling

These days, everyone’s making videos. Whether you’re producing audio-visual content to sell, explain, train staff or expand the reach of your product or service, you’ve probably wondered about whether or not to subtitle it.

Here’s a quick overview of what, when and how to subtitle your video.


1. To sub, or to dub?

Social media has kick-started a meteoric video boom. Tech advances have democratized audiovisuals and these days, nobody needs a full ENG crew, orchestra and herd of camels to carry their film camera gear around. Making a corporate sales, training or how-to video (and making it look good) doesn’t take an age or cost the earth, but when it comes to quality, it is worth ensuring your message gets across properly.

Subtitles can be a more resource-effective way of producing multilingual video content than voiceover. “Subs” are also the preferred choice for social media, as viewers often watch videos at low volume on smartphones. What’s more, they can make videos accessible to people with hearing difficulties.


2. “There must be a YouTube video for that…”

There are dozens of subtitling programs available, but the human touch is indispensable. Turn to a specialized language service provider to guarantee that your message and values are conveyed in a seamless, accurate and culturally appropriate way.

An experienced multimedia and language provider will take you through the process, which typically goes like this:

  • Transcription
  • Translation
  • Spotting (cutting the subtitles into lines)
  • Upload and adjustment

A competent multilingual service provider will also know which font and point size to use, and how to tackle visibility issues if, say, your subtitles and your speaker’s shirt are the same color, or if you need to add a subtitle and a name-tag on the same screen. They can guide you on color-coding for visually impaired viewers and advise on whether to use embedded subtitles or software that layers on subtitles for a specific purpose (such as web streaming).

micro CPSL voice-over

3. Let your voice be read

Ensuring accurate transcription and translation are essential if you want to get great results. And when it comes to the spotting and adjustment, the BBC offers a few golden rules:

  1. Go verbatim, don’t paraphrase, omit or shorten spoken text
  2. Subtitle in one or two lines, never three or more.
  3. Follow the flow and pace of speech, and make natural pauses for the eye, e.g.

Ensure that each phrase can be read at a comfortable pace, even if this means leaving it on a second after the speaker has finished.

You may also wish to consider subtitling a same language version. This is becoming standard practice, especially for social media videos. In addition to making your audio-visual content accessible to those that want to watch it discretely, well-executed same-language subtitling can clarify things for a non-native speaker, or reiterate key messages.

Your multilingual service provider can also help you produce a closed caption or SDH  (Subtitled for the Deaf and Hard-of-hearing) version of your video. These subtitles appear in the source language of the video alongside non-dialogue audio sound effects and speaker identification.


Do you have a subtitle horror story in your multimedia projects? Needing tips on how to get the best out of on-screen text? Let us know !

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