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The Art of Subtitling: How Does It Affect the Viewing Experience?

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By Rossion

We all enjoy watching movies and TV shows. With more and more viewers turning to streaming services, audiences can peruse works from around the world. This means access to material in a variety of languages, often with subtitles. But how do subtitles create a smooth viewing experience? What elements must be considered for high-quality subtitles?

First Things First: Subtitling versus Captioning

Will your audience be watching something in a language they cannot follow without translation? Or are they looking for captioning – for Deaf or Hard of Hearing viewers, or for those watching without sound? With captioning, more details appear on screen, including sounds that are key to the narrative.

Timing is Everything

A major consideration with subtitles is timing: How long should subtitles be? Do they match up approximately with what the characters are saying? In an ideal world, subtitles should be in sync with both the audio and image. Above all, avoid spoilers! There’s nothing worse than having the big reveal show up in the subtitles before it appears on screen.

Keep It Short, and Keep It Clean

No one wants text to fill up their whole screen or overlap too much on the image. As a general rule, keep subtitles to a maximum of two lines. The screen limits the amount of characters that can be included, so it’s likely that some content will be cut.

Because of this, paraphrasing or simplifying is often needed. Parse out the key points: What does the viewer need to know? How much detail is possible, or necessary? Will the audience stay engaged with the information they are provided? Achieving effective and engaging subtitles hinges on these questions.

Another element of good subtitling is making sure punctuation is on point. If the text is messy or inaccurate, you’ll lose the audience.

Make Sure It Works for Your Audience

Localization is key. When adapting text for subtitles, include regional cues that will make sense to the audience. Clear translation or transcription that matches the tone of the dialogue or scene is also important. Does a specific character use a lot of slang? If the subtitles use language that is too formal, the audience won’t understand this and will miss out. Consider what will enrich the viewing experience for the audience and capture that in the subtitles.

There’s more to subtitling than meets the eye – pun intended! A mix of translation, editing, and transcription, good subtitles can make all the difference to the viewing experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Make sure the timing works. Avoid spoilers or major lags between the storyline and the subtitles.
  • Learn to paraphrase well. Subtitles need shorter text that is still engaging and makes sense.
  • Consider your audience. Localization and cultural context matters.

Planning to localize content for the Quebec market? We’re here to help. Get in touch to learn how Rossion can support your company’s transition and adapt your industry-specific content to French.

References

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjGhQMg436U

https://www.ted.com/participate/translate/subtitling-tips

https://translationjournal.net/October-2016/how-to-do-subtitles-well-basics-and-good-practices.html#:~:text=In%20subtitling%2C%20you%20should%20simplify,(text)%20and%20the%20background.

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