The Art of Subtitling

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Ever watched a subtitled film, documentary or talk and thought the subtitles and the words and phrases the person is using differ? 

We only have to understand a little of the foreign language to realise that a word or phrase is missing in the subtitle, or it may have been mistranslated. However, there really is an art to subtitling. 

You need to know  

  • Idioms 
  • Have a good grasp of grammar 
  • Spot faults in both linguistic and technical errors 
  • How to subtitle proficiently. 

So why is there sometimes a difference between what a person says and the subtitle on the screen? 

The proficient subtitler needs to paraphrase the person’s speech and understand their idiolect, which is reflected in the target language. The subtitler has restrictions. They must factor in how long someone can read the subtitle and clearly understand the meaning. The phrases must fit into two coherent lines, and they have a defined number of characters they can use. 

It really is an art.