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Video localisation: here’s why subtitle translation is booming

Squid Game is on track to become the most viewed show on Netflix of all time. But without the help of subtitle translation, it would have been unthinkable that a Korean production would rise to such global success. How people perceive the show might vary greatly though, depending on what language, or should we say, in what translated version they watch it. How subtitle translation can steer how we perceive stories and why the demand for it is booming.

Video localisation: The rise of subtitle translation

Subtitle translation has been on a steady rise for the past years. According to Slator’s 2021 Video Localisation Report, the main users of video localisation services and technologies are in the training and education, meetings and events, and media and entertainment sectors. Together they constitute an estimated market value of USD 4.97bn in 2021. From videos or stories on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram to the global TV industry: subtitles make content understandable to a wider audience. These are the three main reasons why:

  1. People can access content in their native languages
  2. They help people who are deaf or hearing-impaired to understand the content
  3. Videos on social media platforms are often watched without sound. Subtitles help to keep users engaged for longer

And then there are the streaming platforms, of course. Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, or Apple TV have certainly fuelled the demand for subtitle translation and other localisation services such as dubbing, captioning or voice-over. All these language services can be summed up under the video localisation umbrella. Here’s a quick overview of what each of them is:

  • Subtitles: Subtitles are the written translations of spoken dialogue which you can read on-screen.
  • Captioning: As opposed to subtitles, captions are a transcript of any non-verbal sounds in films such as music or any type of sound effect. They help deaf or hearing-impaired viewers. There is a differentiation between open and closed captions.
  • Voice-over: Voice-over refers to the recorded audio to narrate the film. It is typically the recorded voice of one single person.
  • Dubbing: Dubbing is a much more complex process than voice-over. Here, a voice actor must be found for each on-screen actor to speak their text in another language. Translations for dubbing are not only challenging because they need to convey linguistic nuances such as humour, but they should also match the on-screen actors’ lip movements.

How to translate subtitles?

So, we know that subtitle translation is the art of translating the spoken words of a video, film, or series into written text in another language. Sounds like a straightforward process. If you have read some of our other blogs on translation, you will know that there is much more to the art of translation than just translating words.

Subtitle translation is a particularly technical process. Most specialised translation providers either have their own tool or use one of the many software solutions to translate subtitles. There are also various formats that are commonly used for subtitling. Here are some of the most frequently used ones:

Format name File extension
SubRip .srt
WebVTT .vtt
EBU-STL .stl
Avid DS Subtitles .txt
JSON .json
Premier Pro Markers .xml
Final Cut Pro .fcpxml

As with other types of translation, there is the option to rely fully on artificial intelligence (AI) and use subtitling software which does the whole job from speech recognition to translation to implementing the translated subtitles back into the video.

A good method, however, is, to combine AI with human expertise. First, a transcript of the film dialogue is needed to have a source text to translate from. From there, a specialised subtitle translator will take over. During the translation process, the translator also needs to ensure that subtitle splits between scenes make sense syntactically. There usually also is a pre-determined character limit that needs to be maintained. Subtitles cannot be longer than two lines per scene in order to remain readable. Not an easy task, considering that in some languages, texts become longer with the translation process. Once completed, the translated subtitles are then implemented back into the video file.

Why good subtitle translations are important

In general, watching a foreign series or film in its original language with translated subtitles has many advantages. You can hear the actors’ real voices, which makes the viewing experience more authentic. After all, voice and tone are important features of understanding and getting a feel for a language and culture. Perhaps you’ll even pick up a few new words in a different language and can practice your listening skills.

Unfortunately, not all subtitles are translated very well. Or let’s say, translated in a way to convey the actual storyline and what the characters are saying or feeling.

After the recent release of the Netflix success series Squid Game, many Korean speakers have been quick to comment on how the English subtitle translation has changed the show’s meaning.

Korean translator and localisation specialist Heeyeon Noh explains in one of her LinkedIn posts what some of the challenges of subtitling from Korean to English are and how the controversy of the subtitle translation of Squid Game came about.

The moral of the story is: If you don’t want anything to be “lost in translation”, then you better invest in professional subtitling services.

Technology is useful when the interface between man and machine works well. SwissGlobal uses technology to ensure faster and more efficient processes, secure data transfers, and high quality. At SwissGlobal, all processes are ISO 9001, ISO 17100, and ISO 18587 certified, and we also work with ISO 27001 certified partners. Do you have questions about subtitle translations? Get in touch for a quote now.