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The Challenges of Subtitle Translation

The Challenges of Subtitle Translation

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Subtitle translation projects at Pangea Global come in all different wonderful shapes and sizes. Whether it’s a movie, game, documentary, or e-learning material, in various languages ranging from Chinese to Italian, we perform subtitle translations for clients on a daily basis.

Our deliveries have helped businesses reach a wider audience and expand globally. We never fail to produce an accurate and professional adaptation of your message. With our hard work however comes a few challenges – that we always win!

In our latest blog, we present to you some of the challenges faced when creating your quality subtitle translation:

Translating Word-for-Word

As with any translation, adapting subtitles word-for-word is a no-go. A literal translation will almost always result in a translation fail. Firstly, there are words or phrases that may make sense in one language, but are completely inaccurate in another. The process of subtitle translation also requires wording to be minimised as much as possible – if you were to translate word-for-word, the resulting subtitles would be far too long for the screen.

Reducing Word Count

When it comes to translating subtitles, there are several constraints linguists must adhere to. Most translations are usually limited to two lines of subtitles – each line occasionally has 35 characters, while the two lines must have approximately 70. These strict rules require careful a translation, where certain words must be sacrificed, and sentences have to be completely restructured to sustain the same, original message.

Sticking to Time Limits

The minimum length of a subtitle is generally one second, while the maximum is around six seconds. Sticking to time limits during the translation process comes hand-in-hand with reducing the word count. Linguists must ensure that the wording is short, brief and quick enough to keep up with time restraints. Their timing should be so exact, that they appear when the speaker is speaking on screen. When this is done incorrectly, and the subtitles are placed at the wrong time, without matching the speaker, it results in a messy, embarrassing fail.

Conveying the Correct Speech

When performing a subtitle translation, it’s imperative that the linguist is aware of the kind of speech used by every speaker in the video. For instance, an old woman speaks differently to a teenage boy and the Queen uses different speech and wording compared to a factory worker. The correct terminology, phrases and sentence structuring has to be used to ensure that you are accurately conveying the age, status and personality of the speaker.

Meeting Different Cultures

Every translation has the challenge of adapting to various cultures. When you are changing content from one language to another, you must ensure that the result meets the values, norms and cultural aspects of the reader. Symbols, numbering formats and terminology mean different things in each country and culture. Our translators are therefore careful when they translate subtitles, making sure that they are not offending, miscommunicating or confusing the reader.

Not Having the Visual Content

There are cases when we receive subtitles without the visual content. While we accept this, it does pose some difficulties. Not having the matching video or film with the subtitle file is challenging as we cannot identify the speakers or clarify the timing and spacing. The audio, visual and subtitles need to completely coordinate and harmonise together in order to achieve a quality subtitle translation.

Ignoring Machine Translations

Unless you’re a professional translation agency, there is sometimes the temptation of using machine translations to complete the job. This is actually considered a sin in the language world. Quality language service providers like Pangea Global value the importance of real, human translators. Using machines such as Google will only lead to mistakes and an unprofessional result. When translating subtitles, it’s therefore crucial that you use native, qualified, skilled and human translators.

Looking for subtitle translation services? Get in touch with Pangea Global so we can discuss your requirements!
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