localizing video subtitles
localizing video subtitles

With the constant increase of globalization, subtitles have become an ideal solution for making visual content accessible internationally. Subtitles are a great way to get video content out to a wider audience without necessarily going through the time-consuming and costly, though very interesting, dubbing process.

But how to properly subtitle video content, whether a movie, a series, or a simple promotional video? Here are 5 tips to properly subtitle and localize your content.

Quick reminder: What is localization?

To better introduce our topic, it is important to recall what the localization process is. Localizing content is not only translating it but also adapting it culturally to another market. For example, it is important to adapt references, jokes, and other subtleties so that the content fits perfectly into a different culture than the original content.

Localizing requires a perfect mastery of the target culture and, therefore, requires a minimum of expertise in this culture.

Now we are done, let’s enter our topic!

Choose the right font

One thing that can be overlooked but is crucial is the choice of font. Indeed, it must be perfectly readable without any fancy features, not only to be read quickly but also for accessibility purposes. Thus, a common sans serif font like Arial or Calibri is preferred.

In addition, the color is also very important. Exit fuchsia or other apple green; here, the font must be white or gray and stand out from the background. The goal is for the viewer to forget that they are reading a subtitle and to have the impression of understanding the language on their own.

It is a common mistake in amateur subtitling of Japanese anime, for example, as you can see in this screenshot from a “Case Closed” episode.

Pay attention to lip sync

In the case of subtitling live video content, it can be interesting to take into account the lip-synchronization of the speaker on the screen. Of course, it is not as important as it is in the case of dubbing. However, synchronizing syllables similar to the original language can help the reading to be easier.

For example, it can be interesting to put “o’s” or “a’s” when the speaker opens his mouth wide to appear more natural. This is not a crucial point, but it can make your subtitling stand out.

Allow time for speech and reading

There is a common rule that a subtitle should not exceed two lines with 45 characters per line. It is, therefore, very important to remember to let the viewer breathe. A subtitle does not have to be too short: a 2-character subtitle is considered almost useless. 

The challenge is to find the right balance between a subtitle that is too long to be read in time and a subtitle that is so short that you end up getting bored because it appears so long on the screen.

It is necessary to leave time for the speaker on the screen to express himself and time for the spectator to read without it becoming too long.

Also, you have to take into account that not all languages use the same number of characters to express the same idea. For example, German is, on average, 30% longer than English. Thus, you have to play tricks to find the right timing in subtitles. Sometimes, some languages are short compared to Indo-European languages, such as Japanese. Check out our article about localization for the Japanese market to learn more!

Work with certified translators

It may be tempting to work with native speakers to translate your subtitles; however, translating is a job that incorporates many more dimensions than simply mastering the language. 

So, keep in mind that a native speaker can be a good idea for proofreading and identifying any cultural inconsistencies, but to begin with, it is better to have the text translated by a specialist who will be able to transcribe all the subtleties of the text.

Do not limit yourself to the text!

This last tip is more like a bonus, but if you have the opportunity, do not hesitate to change the rest of the original content!

Subtitles are a good start, but especially in a promotional video, you need to take into account the other factors of the video. Is the music appropriate for the target market? Do the colors and mood of the video convey the intended idea for that same market?

Sometimes, offering a completely different video content for a different market than the original one can be the best solution.

Now, you have a great foundation to get started in the world of localization and subtitling! If you would like to learn more about this topic, please check out our other articles or apply directly for the TCLoc Master course.

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