Subtitles are intended for hearing viewers who do not understand the language spoken on the video. They are a written translation of the dialogue.
Films are meant to be engaging, and good subtitles will carry that engaging experience to other languages.
Every video has a timeline. The time-in and time-out of the subtitle file indicate exactly where it belongs on the video timeline. The start and end times are determined by going through the footage frame by frame using professional subtitling software.
Subtitled text fits into the video on the lower portion of the screen in an area called the “action-safe zone” where it will not interfere with the action on the screen, such as the faces of the speakers, or the material being presented.
Subtitle translations must be accurate, easily comprehensible and culturally appropriate for the target audience. References to religious figures, sports or country-specific items may need to be excluded or culturally readapted.
Good subtitling is an art that requires negotiating conflicting requirements. We always aim for subtitles that are faithful to the audio, however, this must be balanced against considerations such as the action on the screen, speed of speech and visual content. For example, in a scene where a character is speaking rapidly, these are some of the decisions the subtitler may have to make:
The “action-safe zone” can only support 2 lines of text, and each line of text can only contain a limited number of characters. This is often problematic for languages such as German, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese and others that tend to expand by as much as 30% during translation. This means the translator will need to adapt the translation to fit the screen as he/she is translating the material. It takes a skilled subtitle-translator to do this efficiently without losing any meaning.