When producing video content for customers or potential clients, sometimes your audience is overseas or simply speaks a different language. If this is the case, subtitle translation is an excellent idea. The process is more complicated than slapping words on the bottom of the screen- it involves translation, revisions, and adherence to international subtitling standards to work properly. Thankfully, we have over 28 years worth of experience offering translation and subtitling services for videos.
When Should You Use Subtitles?
For the average subtitling services project, typically we follow the clients’ lead. If they send us a video that already has subtitles, we provide video subtitling translation services. However there are situations where this might not be the best choice.
An effective use of subtitles is when a person is seen speaking on-screen. It’s quite awkward and amateurish to see a person speaking one language and hear the translation in another language. Subconsciously we are trying to match the sound of the words to the movement of the speaker’s lips and it becomes frustrating and even annoying.
Most clients will agree to the use of subtitles in this situation, but at times there are those who insist on what’s called the United Nations method, whereby we hear the first few seconds of the person speaking in his or her native language and then a narrator’s voice quickly fades in as the source language is left barely audible in the background. This approach doesn’t appear to be so annoying to the viewing public.
The Importance of Subtitle Formatting and Standards
International and company standards exist for the amount of words or characters that are allotted in a line of text. The number of characters generally agreed to is 42. An average English word consists of 6 characters that includes 5 letters and a space at the end. Dividing 42 characters by 6 gives us 7 words per line of subtitle. A maximum of two lines per scene is recommended. If there are more than 2 lines of subtitles, most people would not be able to finish reading before the scene ends and the next scene begins.
Let’s analyze the use of subtitles in a English version of a 10 minute video. On average, there are 150 words spoken in normal conversation, that is a delivery not too slow and not too fast. Therefore a 10 minute video would require 1,500 words of text. Assuming that there are 6 words per line of subtitles and that the limit is two lines of subtitles per scene, a 10 minute video would require 125 scene changes.
Many people find this amount of changes difficult and tiresome to read. In addition, when someone is focusing on the subtitles, it’s nearly impossible to see what’s going on in the video. If one is reading the subtitles, they are missing the images on the screen. If they are looking at the images on the screen, they are not able to read the subtitles at the same time. This creates a real dilemma and most people will tune out and stop watching.
The parameters change somewhat depending on the language that’s being used for the subtitles. Character based languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean (there are others) typically use symbols rather than letters. One character might represent a whole word. For example, a 400 word English subtitle will require 2,400 characters, while the Chinese character count would be 640. This is a dramatic difference.
But we also have to consider the size of the characters compared to the size of the letters. A single Chinese character might be the size of two English letters depending on the font sizes used. There’s a considerable amount of planning that has to be considered when using subtitles.
Which is More Expensive, Voiceovers or Subtitles?
We get this question all of the time. In the long run, they are very close in cost. The ten minute voiceover which would include recording studio rental, audio engineer, professional narrator and final editing would cost around $1,000.
The audio track would be delivered to the client in either .mp3 or .wav format and would be timed to the exact length of the video. The video editor would line up the foreign language audio file with the first audio of the source, lay in the file and violà, the job is done.
Subtitles, on the other hand, would require a video editor who knows how to break the language down into the appropriate lines. The editor would most likely work alongside a native speaker of the language, either in person or remotely, to verify that the lines of text are placed correctly.
Working from a Word document or an Excel file, they would cut and paste the two lines of subtitles into 125 separate scenes. If the editor could cut and past 12 scenes per hour (5 minutes each) it would take approximately 10 hours to complete the job. The fees involved would be for the video studio rental, editor and language consultant.
The advantage of one method over the other would depend on the experience of the people involved. In most cases, the difference in fees would not be enough to choose one method over the other compared to the cost of the entire production.
A Client Subtitle Case Study
Recently we received a request from a client to translate an eight-minute video that describes the function and operation of a newly designed forklift truck that was being used in the logging business.
The machine looked like something out of World War II. It was large, ominous looking and instead of wheels and tires, it rode on heavy duty steel tracks. It didn’t have the typical two pronged forks, but instead, a device that looked like giant tongs that could lift and carry ten tree trunks at a time. It could also navigate mountainous terrain, deep, rugged valleys and cross rivers four feet deep.
Subtitles were used to describe the movement and operation of the machine, but there were also captions naming the essential components of the equipment. Our client decided to use voiceovers for the description of the machine’s operation, as we suggested, and translate the captions. In this manner the viewer could listen to the soundtrack and read the captions at the same time.
No matter which method is selected, “planning ahead” is the most important part of the job. Give us a ring or shoot us an email. At TSI, our experienced translators and project managers have the experience to ensure your video subtitles and translations are done properly.
Translating videos, films and interactive slideshows is an exciting and effective way to connect with potential customers. Our first ever client here at TSI was Kodak in the 1980’s. We created English to Spanish voice over translations for their commercials and promotional videos. We have decades of experience producing voiceover translations and all sorts of other documents.
There are 3 ways to accomplish the production:
1. Voiceover Translation
2. Subtitle Translation
3. A combination of the two
There are several reasons to choose one version over another. I will delve into each separately.
Whenever possible and applicable, voiceover translation is the preferred method, because many people dislike subtitles. Actually, they hate them. I’ve had what I thought were sophisticated and curious friends who would never go to a movie if it were subtitled. Unfortunately for them, they’re missing many great foreign films. There’s no doubt that having to read subtitles takes away some of the enjoyment of viewing the images on the screen. But when you’re dealing with potential clients who would be interested in purchasing your product or services, you should look into the advantages of subtitles.
If the video, film or slideshow is in pre-production stage, you’ll have an advantage, because you have control over the timing of the production. As I have mentioned in earlier articles, many of the languages we deal with on a daily basis are longer than English; up to 30% in some cases. What this means is that if you have a 10 minute video in English, a Spanish narration might require 12 to 13 minutes to record the translation. This can be very problematic and costly. There are 3 ways to deal with this dilemma.
1. Read the translated text faster. Well, this is almost never a good solution unless the English was recorded very slowly, as if the voice talent was about to fall asleep at the microphone. Besides, when the speed of the narration is increased over 5%, the voice starts to sound unnatural and even annoying. Then when the speed of the narration is increased over 10% and even as much as 20%, it’s not only annoying, it becomes impossible to understand. It sounds like Jerry the Mouse running away from Tom the Cat as he’s yelling “don’t catch me; don’t catch me”. Seriously, it’s a poor way to solve the problem.
2. Make the video scenes longer. In some situations, this is an acceptable solution, except that now you’ll wind up with an 11 or 12 minute video. And somebody will have to pay for the additional video editing time. This will only work if there’s nobody speaking on-screen. Still pictures can be lengthened on-screen. Even moving pictures can be lengthened or slowed down to increase their time on the screen. However a person looking directly into the camera would appear silly and even disturbing, because the moving lips would not sync up with the foreign language voice.
3. If you have the opportunity to get involved at the pre-production stage, you should be able to edit the translation to make it conform to the length of the English. This is how we prefer to work. Whenever possible, we encourage our clients to let us make the original translation. Our translators understand the intricacies of working with video and film and can adapt the recording script to the allotted time.
Choosing the Right Voice Translator Talent
When we started translating videos and recording foreign language narrations more than 25 years ago, over 90% of our clients used male narrators. Many of the videos dealt with technical products, heavy duty machinery and construction equipment. They were made to sell products and create safety training programs for issues relating to OSHA. Our clients requested male narrators to match the style and feeling of the English versions. About ten years ago companies started using more female narrators. I prefer the sound and tone of a female voice. Female voices appear sharper and clearer on videos and films.
A final thing to consider with voiceovers is the accent of the narrator. If a video were meant to be used in Mexico or some of the other Latin American countries, I would advise a client not to use a narrator from Argentina, Uruguay or Spain. Because there are many countries that have Spanish as their official language, we typically suggest a Spanish speaking narrator with a neutral accent, perhaps someone from Colombia or Peru. The same can be said for other languages such as French, Italian, German and Russian. It’s best to choose a voice that is suitable to the location where the video or film will be used.
When Video Translation and Subtitling are Better than Voiceovers
At TSI, we do more than just voice dubbing - we are also a subtitle translation services company. There are specific occasions whereby voiceovers should not be used whenever possible. I advise clients to avoid voiceovers when the talent is talking on-screen. It’s almost impossible to sync an audio track to the movement of a person’s lips when using another language. The results range from being funny to annoying. Our mind wants us to think that the person is speaking the foreign language, but no matter how hard we try, it just doesn’t work, especially when the target language has a different etymology from the source. Imagine trying to sync Chinese, Hindi or Swahili to English. The languages are so vastly different that the viewer will not feel comfortable listening awww.tsi.world/contact.htmlnd viewing at the same time. There is a solution however, when a customer really wants this option. This means finding the right translation and subtitling services company.
With almost 30 years as voice language translators, TSI has the experience to ensure your videos are done on time and on budget. Our portfolio offers great examples of some of our clients who return year after year thanks to our professionalism. If your company is looking for a translation agency offering voiceover translation services or subtitle translations, don’t hesitate to reach out for a free quote.
Language translation is a delicate process. In a world obsessed with technology, native speaking human translators are still the gold standard when it comes to document translation services. While there are various computer aided translation programs available today (commonly referred to as ‘machine translations’), they typically offer a subpar end product that can result in translation errors and lost business. This is why here at TSI, we only use translators who speak the native languages specific to their jobs. We take this role seriously and it sets us apart from other translation service providers.
Most common computer translation programs cannot distinguish between a document whose final destination is France versus French speaking Algeria or many of the other countries that include French as an official language. Each language has its own variations from region to region, as we’ve discussed in previous articles.
2. Words With Multiple Meanings
We encounter this often, especially with English into Spanish translations. There are many English words, spelled exactly the same, that have different meanings. A professional translator will read the words in context and understand their precise meaning. However, machine translation programs, although having made great strides in the past several years, are not nearly as effective as humans. For example, let’s look at wind (to turn) and wind (flowing air). The main issue with these examples is their counterparts in other languages are not identical. To ‘turn’ in Spanish is enrollar and flowing air is viento. Machine translation programs cannot always differentiate words like this in context. Native speaking human translators are far superior in this scenario.
3. Machine Translations Lack Human Touch
In addition to just completely getting definitions wrong, computer translated documents often read dry and stilted. Reading is one of the most essential forms of communication. Anyone who has read a best selling novel understands that good writing can evoke true emotion from the reader. Some are so powerful that they bring readers to tears. While this may not be the goal of your business document translation, HR document translations or legal translations, it’s still essential that your company can connect with your target audience on a personal level.
4. Humans Excel at Technical Terminology Translation
If you think a computer can decipher hundreds of parts that make up modern medical instruments and devices, think again. You need a human translator who specializes in precise terminology associated with this field. Terminology that is industry specific does not typically exist in most dictionaries. This means computers can’t correctly process these terms. Even most human translators cannot accomplish this. For this reason, we are sure to pair our projects with native translators who have a robust understanding of the industry in question. For example, when we are dealing with architectural document translations we assign the project to a translator with a degree and several years experience in architecture or structural engineering. A similar rule applies to technical operating and maintenance manuals, to HR and OSHA regulations and legal briefs. Understanding how to properly pair a translator with a job is akin to casting the right actor in an academy award-winning movie. There are hundreds of actors available and eager for their next big role, but it’s the subtle details and demands of the part that makes their role really shine on the silver screen. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Johnny Depp are both great actors, but would never be up for the same role.
5. Human Translators Lead to Cost Savings
One myth is that using computer software to translate documents saves customers a lot of money. This is not necessarily the case, for a few reasons. The actual translation procedure from one language to the next is merely one step in the translation supply chain. Due to the increased errors when using computer software, it requires more detailed rounds of revisions (assuming companies even do them to begin with). This additional proofreading and revising adds up. Machine translations do not eliminate the project management costs or graphic design costs, which leads us to our next issue…
6. Improper Formatting for Internationalization
As we’ve discussed in previous articles, internationalization is the design and layout of a document or product so that translation and localization can be easily implemented. When using computer aided translation software, there is no way to know if the final translation will fit within the allotted space on product packaging or pages. This can lead to even more unforeseen costs, like having to send the translated document back to your graphic design team to reformat the file to conform to the layout of the original document. Human translators can make these formatting adjustments while they are working on the files and avoid these additional costs.
At TSI, we ensure that our professional translators are made aware of spacing and other formatting issues before they even begin the job. This means that they occasionally may have to substitute words that are shorter or more concise to reflect the correct layout of the document. Machine translation programs cannot do this.
If you’re searching for a translation company or online translation services, please contact us for more information or a free quote on your project. Human translations are the correct choice.
After decades in the translation and localization industry, we have helped clients expand overseas by translating anything from human resource documents, OSHA translations, Amazon FBA translations, medical industry translations, HTML translations, the list goes on! But like every story, there has to be a beginning. For me, it was my own personal journey with learning a second language.
It started many years ago when I was studying Spanish for my eventual tour of duty in South America for the Peace Corps. Our cultural training had ended and it was time to get serious about improving language skills for those of us who were going to be volunteering in a country where English was not the official language. Although I had studied Spanish for two years in university, my real life experience speaking the language was nil. Other volunteers and I who were going to Latin America were sent individually to Puerto Rico for six weeks of intensive language training. I wound up in a small village called Coamo, located in the south central part of the island. I was the only volunteer sent to this location. Others were scattered about the island in small groups or if married, in pairs.
I had been working hard on perfecting my grammar, trying to piece together complicated sentences, so as to appear accomplished in Spanish. A favorite thing for me to do was go to a small restaurant from where I was staying at a small clinic and eat with some of the locals. One day at lunch, I was feeling quite confident in my ability to appear fluent, so I approached the owner, who also served as cook, waitress and cashier. She looked directly at me, as she usually did every afternoon and said “¿Qué quieres comer?” (What do you want to eat?). I puffed up my chest and said “Me gustaría pedir un tazón de sopa del día y por favor que le ponga un huevo.” (I would like to order a bowl of soup of the day and would you please put in an egg”) She leaned forward across the counter with her face inches from mine and with a sly smile said, “sopa con huevo”.
This might have been the most important Spanish lesson I ever learned. She replaced my 17 words with 3 very short ones. I was both humbled and grateful at the same time. These long, convoluted sentences might be appropriate for literature, but for everyday conversation, it’s better to keep it simple and to the point.
I find a lot of similar uses of language every day as clients contact us or send us documents for translation. It’s not our position to tell them how to write. However, if their verbiage distracts from the intended meaning of the document, we will point this out and suggest revisions to make the translation more reliable and effective.
Another key example of when keeping it simple is preferred deals with sentence length. A sentence in English is much shorter that its translated pair in Spanish or many other languages. If the amount of text gets too long, it creates formatting issues when our graphic design team needs to go back and replace the original text with the newly translated text. This holds true with video subtitles and voice overs as well.
How do you know if your document language will be too long for translation? The best way to find out is to contact TSI for an estimate, quote or just advice. We are more that happy to walk you through the steps of the process to determine if our services are right for your business.
In closing, my message to future and present corporate writers: “put some love into your work and remember to KISS.”
Of course most of us have heard and have even used the common expression “The customer is always right”. Well, it isn’t necessarily so, especially in the world of translations. This is a difficult and delicate subject to talk about, but it must be addressed in a professional manner.
To begin, let’s look at a typical translation project.
Several years ago we translated a 62-page operation and maintenance manual for a complex mechanical system into French for one of our long term clients. In the five prior years working for this client, we had never received a negative review of our work. However this time, they sent back the translation with several pages of changes, all dealing with terminology and style. I shared the revised document with our translator, a retired mechanical engineer who was born, raised, educated and employed for 35 years in France. His first indication was to laugh, because the changes, according to him, “were nothing short of childish”. Whoever performed the review had no background in mechanical terminology. In addition, the changes in style were strictly preferential, quite “flowery” and not suitable for a technical manual. I then sent the original translation and the revised version to another technical translator on our team. He made the same comments as the original translator. But there was a very important issue that both translators pointed out that could have caused major technical damage or personal harm if the revised version was to be used. In one section, the reader was instructed to turn a compressor valve 90 degrees counterclockwise to stop the flow of high-pressure gas through the system. The person who reviewed the original translation apparently did not know the difference between clockwise and counterclockwise and instead changed the meaning to “turn the valve to the right”. We are not in a position to speculate what would have happened if those instructions were followed, but I immediately called our client in France and pointed out the obvious mistake made by the proofreader. Of course, he was grateful and relieved to find out that we had found the mistake.
As I later discovered, the company had recently hired a new divisional supervisor who brought along his personal team, including his receptionist. He instructed her to proofread the manual and make changes as needed. She was told that a company in the USA did the translation and he wanted to make sure that the French was correct. After discussing the situation with my direct client, I found out that the receptionist was not fluent in English and hence unable to make a valid comparison of the two languages, but that she also had no experience in manufacturing and technical terminology.
Fortunately the head of the facility readily understood the situation and approved the translation that we originally submitted. We have since created a formal procedure for reviewing future translation projects.
We encourage all our clients, both new and old to establish an independent review process, especially when we are in the initial stages of developing a working relationship. This creates a solid business bond that is mutually beneficial. At TSI, we take a great deal of pride in bonds like this. Maintaining long term connections with our clients is tantamount to both their success as well as ours. We truly believe it’s a symbiotic relationship. Throughout every step of a job, we are here to answer questions to clients should there be any curiosity or confusion in our standard operating procedures; who thought an industry as mundane as translations could necessitate so much human interaction? It’s a good reminder of the power of the written word. If you are a previous client or a potential new client, you are always welcome to reach out for a consultation, quote or just to inquire more about our process, because remember, the customer is always right… right?
Very few languages use as many idioms as English, where they are found quite frequently even in business correspondence. At TSI, we see thousands of documents each year of all sorts of different content. Here are several idiom examples that have come across our desk.
Most experienced professional translators understand these common idioms and know if there are similar expressions in their native language. In addition, we thoroughly review every document intended for translation while looking for these phrases that have the potential to create misunderstandings. The problems arise when clients rely on software to translate their documents. Here is one of my favorites.
I’m pulling your leg.
We know that this means I’m joking with you or that I’m teasing you. The Spanish version of this is: Te estoy tomando el pelo, which translates back into English as “I’m taking your hair.” It’s as far away from the intended meaning in Spanish as I’m pulling your leg is in English.
So how does one avoid confusion or misunderstanding when venturing into the world of idioms?
Know your translator, and if you don't, feel free to reach out. We are always available for a consultation or a quote regardless if your documents contain idioms or not.
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.