Why Is Subtitle Translation Needed?

June 9, 2023
Why Is Subtitle Translation Needed?

Translating subtitles for movies, YouTube videos, and other media makes any content accessible to new audiences. Such accessibility allows for greater chances of generating revenue and following. For these reasons, high-quality subtitle translation is important for producers looking to share their content with audiences who speak other languages. By translating subtitles, you deliver an enhanced user experience. This ultimately leads to a higher streaming time and engagement, both important metrics on any streaming platform’s algorithm.  

On the other hand, businesses regularly look for the best way to translate subtitles for marketing videos, product demonstrations, online training courses, webinars, presentations, speeches, interviews, and much more. In any corporate context, translated subtitles allow companies to communicate better with their stakeholders and/or constituents.

These days, the question of how to translate a subtitle is easy to answer; many online subtitle translation companies are available to help. These businesses let you upload your subtitles file (usually a .srt or .vtt file) and then translate the content before sending it back to you in the same format. Let's explore the practice of translating subtitles further. 

Understanding the Importance of Context When You Translate Subtitles 

Context is everything when translating, which is especially true when it comes to translating subtitles. According to professional subtitler Iury Volpi, the main challenge of the practice is needing to say a great deal with limited space. Maintaining the essence of any dialogue while taking into account the natural syntax of the target language may sound easy, but even seasoned translators find this aspect challenging from time to time.

Volpi uses movie translation as an example of this. His advice is to dive into the translation without watching the whole film. That way, the translator can stay in context and convey the emotion of the dialogue as it unfolds, without being influenced by anything later in the movie. 

Translating subtitles also requires an awareness of cultural nuances, for a translator does more than just bridge the language gap. They are also responsible for accurately and appropriately conveying every relevant cultural detail of the source medium to the target audience. This means the subtitler needs to consider their work's linguistic and contextual elements; how to translate subtitles in a way that resonates from a cultural perspective. 

From a linguistic perspective, mastery of both the original and target languages is essential. The subtitler must be able to comprehend every subtlety of the dialogue they are translating to convey it with the utmost accuracy in the target language. A lack of dialogue comprehension on the subtitler’s part would mean much of the finesse of the original language would be lost – something that no business wondering how to translate subtitles on a video can afford to suffer. 


Principles and Challenges 

When it comes to translation, language mastery we mentioned above is at the heart of the process - may it be direct, semantic, faithful, idiomatic, free, communicative, or adaptation that suits the needs of a particular audience. Apart from colloquial knowledge, translators often find themselves needing some technical knowledge depending on the scope of the medium they are working on: a movie about doctors would definitely need some sort of familiarity with medical terms, one way or another.

Another good example comes form Mariano Carrasco, another professional translator and subtitler. He points out that when you translate subtitles, you may need to deal with anything from symbols to specific historical and cultural references. This needs to be done in a way that both stays true to the original content and resonates with the target audience, despite the gulf in cultural knowledge between the two. 

Understanding how to translate video subtitles in a way that balances the needs of different audiences can also be a challenge. Between closed captions, subtitles, and dubbed audio, businesses have different options for presenting their content in other languages. Which to use requires careful consideration. For larger translation jobs, managing the translation and localization process can be challenging, with a team of linguists working on different elements of a project. This is where engaging a professional translation team can ease the pain of the process. 

One other element of translating movie subtitles that overcomes some of the challenges has a robust quality assurance process in place to check the translated text. The same goes for subtitles for all other kinds of media. Checking the quality of the translated subtitles ensures that every single one contributes to a top-notch user experience. 


Choosing the Right Tools and Software for Subtitle Translation

Whether you need to translate subtitles to English from another language or take your English subtitles and reach out to audiences overseas, there are plenty of tools to help. Note that you will need to look for tools that don’t just enable you to edit subtitles but translate them too. Some of the most popular tools that can translate movie subtitles – and, indeed, translate any subtitles – include Subtitles Translator, SubtitleBee, Redokun, and Translatesubtitles.co. 

Some individual translators will also provide transcription, captioning and subtitling, so engaging someone through a freelancing platform is also an option. Then there are applications such as Subtitle Workshop, Subtitle Edit, and Aegisub – such a tool could be useful for editing subtitles.

Choosing the right tool for your needs depends on various factors, from your pricing requirements to how quickly you need the translated subtitles. Most leading services work with all common subtitle file formats, so it shouldn’t matter too much whether you want to translate .srt subtitles or another format. Shop around and read reviews online before committing to a particular tool, service, or software, just as you would when buying in other business resources. 


Best Practices

Practically speaking, there is a clear process to follow, whether you need to translate online video subtitles or any other sort. This starts with transcribing the original dialogue from your video. You’ll need to timestamp it as you transcribe so that you know the time codes for applying the translated subtitles. Many subtitle translation companies will provide the transcription for you if needed. 

With the written text taken care of, it’s time to translate the dialogue. As we’ve outlined above, you can use multiple tools and companies for this. 

As part of this process, it’s important to remember that different languages use different volumes of words to convey the same meaning. As such, you may need to adjust the subtitled dialogue for timing and readability. After all, subtitles won’t deliver a decent user experience if the viewer doesn’t have time to read them. 

Proofreading and editing can help with this. Whether you need to translate YouTube subtitles, Facebook video subtitles, television show subtitles or anything else, proofreading and editing are essential. As well as considering timing and readability, they can help to catch typos, correct poor grammar, and flag up any cultural, historical, or other references that have slipped through the net and won’t make sense to the target audience. 

With the editing complete, it’s time for a final review, as part of your quality assurance process, to double-check that the translated subtitles deliver an outstanding user experience. 


Subtitles That Require Creativity: Dealing with Special Cases 

Certain types of content present particular difficulties for those translating subtitles. Slang, idioms, and cultural references can be extremely specific to a single culture and language. As such, subtitlers need to be creative in their approach to translating these while remaining connected to the original dialogue as faithfully as possible. 

Humor and sarcasm can be equally problematic. Many jokes don’t directly translate, while sarcasm often relies on tone and the words involved. This means that those who translate any subtitles with humor and sarcasm must do so very carefully to convey the meaning of the dialogue correctly. Songs, poems, and other artistic expressions may also present a problem. In the case of songs, for example, a single music note symbol can be used at the beginning of a subtitle displaying the lyrics, while a double music note can show that the song is over. 


Finding the Best Way to Translate Subtitles

Whatever content you are subtitling, and no matter which languages you are using, there are certain best practices to abide by. The first is ensuring that your translated subtitles are accurate and faithful to the meaning of the original content. To achieve this, it’s essential to ensure that your process's transcription and translation elements focus on quality as a top priority. 

You must also maintain readability when translating subtitles from one language to another. Whether you plan to translate subtitles for YouTube or any other platform, keeping them simple helps ensure readability. Professional subtitlers will understand this and should focus on delivering simple dialogue that remains faithful to the original as they undertake their translation work. 

Finally, prioritizing cultural sensitivity and inclusion is key. By translating subtitles, you are reaching out across linguistic and cultural boundaries. Doing so means you must ensure your content includes your new audience. As every good subtitle translator knows, cultural sensitivity is at the core of that.  



Subtitle translation makes content more accessible to new audiences, which means businesses can use that content to drive more revenue. Meanwhile, the combination of our globalized world, and the general public’s voracious appetite for video content, means that those who translate subtitles aren’t likely to be short of clients anytime soon – great news for both existing and aspiring subtitle translators.

By Louise Taylor

Louise Taylor is a professional freelance writer who has been fascinated by languages since childhood. She holds qualifications in Spanish, French, German and Latin, as well as her native English.



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