5 Reasons Subtitles Can Differ From Audio

Subtitles are there to ensure that all viewers can understand and enjoy movies and other video content, whether it’s a translation of another language or same-language captions created specifically for the hard-of-hearing.

Posted on Jul 05, 2018 by Sophia Klippvik  | Tags: localization, SDH subtitling, subtitling, blog

But subtitles don’t always exactly match the audio – here are 5 reasons why:

1.Edited vs Verbatim Dialogue

Dialogue is presented verbatim where possible in same-language captions, but sometimes it has to be edited to meet recommended reading speed limits. These are intended to make it easier to follow the subtitles without detracting from the overall viewing experience. We also try to break lines and divide subtitles in grammatically and dramatically logical places, which may occasionally necessitate small edits.

Research on optimum reading speeds and formatting has given rise to recommendations, but subtitling is a creative process which requires constant decision-making, by trained subtitlers, as to what to prioritize.

5 Reasons Subtitles Can Differ From Audio

2.Foreign language inserts

Sometimes viewers aren’t expected to understand dialogue in another language if the characters in the show do not. It can be more about adding local color. A translation subtitle might give undue emphasis to, say, someone asking the price of fish in the background of an action scene. And “Πόσο κάνει αυτό το ψάρι;” is overall less informative than, say, [speaks Greek], unless you happen to read Greek.

Where the foreign language or its translation is in the script, we would always agree with the client how this should be incorporated in the subtitles.

5 Reasons Subtitles Can Differ From Audio

3.Dialects and broken speech

Local dialects and slang often don’t have a standard written form and unfamiliar spellings may impede understanding – some adjustments may be made to aid clarity. Similarly, if a person stumbles or stops and starts a lot, a verbatim subtitle can be harder to comprehend than the corresponding audio would be. But it’s a key part of characterization, so where possible, we would aim to convey non-standard speech rather than over-simplifying.

5 Reasons Subtitles Can Differ From Audio


Usually, where there is profanity in the audio we include it in the subtitle. If profanity is bleeped then we would use e.g. “f***”. Occasionally swears may be edited out for reading speed, but we always aim to include some of them so that the flavor of the speech is not lost.

5 Reasons Subtitles Can Differ From Audio

5.Cultural and linguistic differences

Since each language has its own specificities, translated subtitles may look different from the source. For example, the Irish greeting “Top of the morning to you” might translate as a simpler “Bonjour” in French. To translate the Irish phrase more literally would be distracting unless the specific wording makes a difference to the plot.

5 Reasons Subtitles Can Differ From Audio

Our subtitlers are passionate about providing a great service and consider very carefully the choices they make around what to include, to best reflect the original content while making the experience enjoyable. It’s great to get input from viewers as to what works well and what we can improve. This is how we continue to grow as a global localization company!

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