Best Practices in Subtitle Translation

Translate captions using these time-proven tips to produce easy-to-read captions in any language.

How to translate subtitles like the best:
The main things to keep in mind will actually be a given once you start using TranslatingBox.
  • Our aim is to provide maximum appreciation and comprehension of the target film as a whole by maximizing the legibility and readability of the inserted subtitled text.
  • Our source subtitles, strive to offer lines at around 35 characters in order to be able to accommodate a satisfactory portion of the (translated) spoken text and minimize the need for original text reduction and omissions. 
  • Break a subtitle into two lines when the text changes to orange or red if possible
  • If you’re translating into Japanese, Chinese or Korean, move to the next line AS SOON AS it turns Orange.
  • Keep broken lines as close in length as possible.
You should break the line like this:
I adopted a dog, a cat,
three mice, and a goldfish.
..and you should not break the line like this:
I adopted a dog,
a cat, three mice, and a goldfish.
Keep 'linguistic wholes' together when breaking lines.
  • It is better to segment a long single-line subtitle into a two-line subtitle, distributing the words on each line. 
  • Subtitled text should appear segmented at the highest syntactic nodes possible. This means that each subtitle flash should ideally contain one complete sentence. In cases where the sentence cannot fit in a single-line subtitle and has to continue over a second line or even over a new subtitle flash, the segmentation on each of the lines should be arranged to coincide with the highest syntactic node possible. 
For example, these lines are broken in a way that preserves similar length, but breaks the linguistic unit of the adjective “Romance” modifying the noun “languages”:
I can speak ten modern Romance
languages and read Latin pretty well.
In such cases, it is better to go with something less balanced, but preserve the linguistic unit:
I can speak ten modern Romance languages
and read Latin pretty well.
Compress Subtitles' Text
Compress subtitles which exceed 21 characters per second. Strive to preserve as much meaning as possible.
Sometimes it may be necessary to rephrase the line in order to make it possible not to break apart linguistic units. For example, instead of going with this subtitle:
I learned more about Jane
Elliott on Wikipedia.
…you may be able to rephrase it (depending on the context) to say:
I learned more about her on Wikipedia.
Then, I read the Wikipedia article.
I learned more about Jane Elliott.
I learned more about her.
This type of rephrasing can be referred to as “compressing” or reducing text.
Of course, rephrasing is not only about making the subtitle so short that it can fit in one line (no longer than 42 characters). Sometimes, it’s difficult or impossible to compress so much, but you can change the structure of the subtitle to make it easier to break cleanly. For example:
About Jane Elliott,
I learned more on Wikipedia.
This is not necessarily good English, but the target language that you are translating into may allow this sort of phrasing. If possible, try to rephrase the subtitle to make it break cleanly without the need to sever any linguistic units.
Simple rules-of-thumb for line breaking
  • It is impossible to provide a list of rules to use with all the languages in the world. Line-breaking rules depend largely on the target language’s grammar (and morphology) – on what kind of units are “wholes” in a sentence. The list below contains some rules that can be used in English and several Western-European languages and can serve as an inspiration in searching for similar rules in your own language.
    • The articles (a, an, the) are never followed by a line break.
    • An adjective should stay together with what it is describing, but two or more adjectives can sometimes be separated with commas, and then it is possible (though not preferable) to break a line after one of the commas.
    • Clauses should stay together (never break lines after relative pronouns like which, that, who, etc.).
    • Prepositions are not followed by a line break if the break would separate them from the noun they refer to. Note that in English, a preposition in a concrete/physical meaning (e.g. “The book is in the drawer”) always precedes a noun, and cannot be followed by a line break, but a preposition that is part of a phrasal verb (put up, figure out, take in) may sometimes not be followed by a noun (“I figured it out yesterday”), and so, it can be followed by a line break.
    • Proper names should stay together if at all possible (think of them as a single word with many parts).