A Short Guide on How to Make Successful Subtitles

A guide on subtitling succesfully

Subtitling is a type of multimedia translation known for having its own specificities and rules. It consists not only of translating its content textually but also of relying on images and audio. Due to their short time and space format, it is important to take a few points into account, which we will develop in this Short Guide on Successful Subtitles.

To provide you with the tools to appropriately and successfully produce subtitles, throughout this short guide, we will talk about the particularities of subtitles and about the series of steps that must be followed in the production process.

The world of subtitles

Subtitles are used as a support to understand what is said in an audiovisual work, the reasons may be to present the content in a different language, for informative purposes in case there is no access to audio, or for people with hearing disabilities.

Since it is audiovisual support, this type of translation is known for having limited space, generally of two lines, each of which cannot contain more than 35 characters and can total up to 70. Likewise, in terms of the time limit, a subtitle has a minimum duration of one second and a maximum duration of 6 seconds on screen.

The above parameters are based on an average reading speed. It is considered that each person can read the same amount of text if they have 6 seconds or less. Likewise, the current average reading speed is estimated to be 3 words per second. So to read a complete subtitle of 2 lines and 70 characters, each person needs at least 4 seconds, which is about 12 words. If less time is available, fewer characters must be calculated.

The process of making subtitles can be demanding. The translator must time when the subtitles appear and disappear on the screen, so that the subtitles are synchronized with the audio, as well as taking into account the duration of the subtitles and shot changes. Therefore, keeping in mind a series of steps that can help in their design is an important key for any project that wishes to have this type of translation.

Short Guide on Successful Subtitles

Be concise: Although the length of subtitles depends on the media in which they are presented, they should not exceed 35 characters per line. This is to allow viewers time to read them and understand the content they see on screen. Linguists should remember that their work is complementary and should not divert the viewer’s attention from the screen. Therefore, trying to convey meaning concisely is critical.

Preserve meaning: The most important task in any type of translation is to preserve the meaning of the content from one language to another. However, translating word for word is not usually a good option in subtitles because of the space it can take up. Therefore, it is important to always find a way for each subtitle to capture the tone and purpose; even if this requires paraphrasing or adjusting the translation to better connect with the audience.

Focus on the audience: The next step is to make sure that the subtitles are readable to the audience. When translating, it is ideal to take time to think about the following questions:

  • Can the storyline of the video be followed if muted?
  • Are line breaks natural?
  • Can the entire subtitle be read before the next one comes in?
  • Do the subtitles cover too much of the screen?

Consider cultural relevances: Whether it is a marketing video or a company presentation video, cultural considerations are very important when translating subtitles. They should be translated so that the content reflects a style similar to that of the speakers and is culturally acceptable to the target audience.

To sum up this Short Guide on Successful Subtitles, it is useful to keep in mind that the ideal result of subtitles is that they are synchronized with their audiovisual format in such a way that the information is perceived naturally and fluently. So much so that viewers do not realize that they are reading and are absorbed by the image and the audio.

Are you trying to make your audiovisual project accessible to a larger audience? At Win & Winnow, our professionals are well prepared to take on projects of different styles and needs according to your preferences. If you are interested in learning more about our translation services, get in touch and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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A Short Guide on How to Make Successful Subtitles

A guide on subtitling succesfully