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April 3, 2018 |

7 Major Subtitling Errors – And How to Avoid Them

Let’s be honest. Some subtitling errors are funny, especially when they only cause small misunderstandings. A misspelled word can make an ordinary video go viral by creating a hilarious unintended meaning.

However, in other situations, subtitling errors are harder to ignore. They can make a video hard to watch or even impossible to follow. All your efforts making the video will yield no ROI, only confused and disengaged followers.

So, if you’re planning to publish video content for foreign audiences, subtitling errors can mean the difference between success and failure. Because they’re the bridge between you and your audience, a solid connection will help your public to engage with your message. A bad translation will cut all bonds you have created with your viewers.

Check these seven major subtitling errors and learn how to avoid them to make sure you don’t lose your public in translation.  

1. Word-to-Word Translation

The advantage of video content comes from the fact that your viewers can relate easily to what they see. But, you can lose this advantage in seconds if your subtitles aren’t in line with the images behind them.

Words have different meanings from one language to another. When going for a literal translation, you can’t always keep the meaning intact. “It’s raining cats and dogs” translated word-to-word makes no sense to a foreigner. 

Imagine the confusion when the viewer can see only rain in the video, while the subtitles talk about animals falling from the sky!

You need to adapt the original script, to make it easy to follow by your public. Every language has its own expression for heavy rain. Just find the one that fits in the context!

To avoid such subtitling errors, it’s essential to work with subtitlers who are native in the target language. This way, you make sure your subtitles are easy to understand by locals, as they’ll rely on regional definitions.

2. All Voices Have the Same Style

When you have more actors speaking in your videos, you must make sure everyone gets a particular ‘voice’. This means that the translation should respect the personality of the person who speaks.

For example, if you’re running a video about teenagers and your original script reflects their way of speaking, your translation should do the same. Too formal vocabulary, in this case, would make the video less credible to your public.

If you have different voices in your video content, make sure your subtitlers receive a style guide to help them identify the language differences and make sure your viewers can identify themselves with the situations they see.

3. The Phrases Are too Long

Some languages require more space than English, while others use fewer words to express the same ideas. In website localization, this means you’ll need more space to publish the same content on a page.

But, when it comes to subtitles, things aren’t that easy to fix. Normally, you should have two lines of text on the screen. Make it longer than that and you risk covering the image.

Plus, people don’t have enough time to read all the information on the screen. When the image doesn’t correspond to the subtitles, the video can’t be watched. Such subtitling errors create confusion, and your audience is likely to stop watching.

Subtitles should be on screen only when the words are spoken (or long enough to be read, if the sentences are very short). To avoid long phrases in translation, you must make sure the original script has short sentences.

Whether it’s dialogue or narrative, make sure your original content is written in simple phrases. This way, subtitlers can easily translate the script to meet technical requirements.

4. Line Breaks Are Unnatural

Subtitle lines should follow the natural way of speaking – after a clause or when the phrase ends. Splitting the text randomly makes the sentences difficult to follow. Your public should be able to watch both subtitles and the image on the screen. If people have to read a sentence twice to understand it, you’ll lose your viewers.

Edit all unnatural breaks, and have the translation rewritten if phrases don’t fit. This way, you make sure every sentence is easy to follow while watching the video. And your public gets to understand the correct meaning of your message.  

5. Not Enough Punctuation

Subtitling rarely uses periods. However, exclamation points and question marks are important if you want to keep the context clear. Commas, colons, semicolons, or apostrophes, makes phrases intelligible and emphasize ideas in the script.

Think about reading a text without any punctuation. It wouldn’t make sense! It’s the same with subtitles. Without punctuation, the public won’t understand what you’re trying to say. So, make sure your original text has the right punctuation and ask your subtitlers to follow the good practice for the target script.

6. Relying on Automated Translation

No software can replace human translation. Some machine translation can provide a decent version of your script, but it won’t keep the meaning intact. Computers can’t translate irony, sarcasm, humor, or emotions.

Video content should encourage more engagement from your viewers. But if you fail to give your public a valid translation in the form of high-quality subtitles, they won’t engage. Automated subtitling is unnatural and hard to relate with.  

7. The Text is Illegible

If the text is too small or the wrong color, there’s a high chance that people won’t be able to read it. With so many viewers watching video content directly from their smartphones, these details are essential for an enhanced user experience.

Generally, anything lower than 9-point doesn’t meet the standard. When it comes to color, the background must be considered, as well. So, you should avoid:

  • White letters on a white background
  • Gray letters on a dark background
  • Black letters on a black background

Even the best translation can easily go unnoticed if people can’t read the text on the bottom of the screen. Test all your subtitled videos on various devices, to make sure they are easy to read in every circumstance.

Subtitling Errors – The Takeaway

Subtitling is far more efficient than dubbing, as it keeps the video “natural” – your public gets a piece of authentic content, without missing any details due to the language barrier. But subtitling errors can turn a great video into a mediocre piece of content–or worse–render it unusable.

If you invest your resources in creating quality videos, add subtitles in your budget right from the start. Cutting corners when it comes to translation won’t help you conquer new audiences. Instead, you risk losing your public to other more interesting videos online.