Since the advent of globalization, the need for people to understand each other in terms of language has grown exponentially. We, as a society, therefore, are trying to narrow the gap in language barriers to improve overall communication. The main reason for this urge is to create a conducive environment that allows businesses and cooperation to foster and thrive. These desires have led to the creation of jobs such as the title of a subtitler in the media and entertainment industries.

In terms of human history, subtitling is a relatively new form of writing created in the 1900s. It was made after the invention of films to help them convey the dialogue of actors to the audience. Back then, only silent movies were available. The movie had no sound, hence their makers had to find a convenient way to communicate their themes and messages. Facials and body cues weren’t enough to capture the audience, keeping them glued to the movie set.

Since then, the work of a subtitler has dramatically evolved. Subtitles are more critical now more than ever. And they are not only subtitles in movies or series, they are also made on social networks such as Instagram Reels subtitles. They are using technological innovation to break down human barriers to communication continuously.

So then, who is a subtitler? Let’s find out.

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This article was updated in April 2021

Who is or What is a Subtitler?

A subtitler is either considered to be a person or software. As a person, they are also known as translators or translator subtitlers. A translator subtitler is someone who translates subtitles from one form to another. The transformation is from video or audio to written words. It can also be from one language subtitles to another.

For a SaaS (software as a service), a subtitler is a software package used to assist in creating subtitles for movies, songs, documentaries, games and many more.

We will mainly be focusing on a subtitle being human in this article.

The Difference between Transcribing and Subtitling

We need to understand the difference between subtitling and transcribing Before we proceed any further. People commonly mistake the two as being the same. However, the two are different in their formulation and usage.

For transcription, you’ll find its usage mostly in court records and meetings. Scribes will type or jot down everything said in a meeting or a courthouse as a record of the proceedings. They usually record the proceedings word for word in everything said during the event.

As for subtitling, it is merely a summary list of all information said in films without losing the initial intended meaning. If subtitlers were to write everything uttered by actors, there would be far too many words on a screen. Moreover, the way most people speak on ordinary occasions isn’t always grammatically correct. So, it is the translator’s responsibility to correct the errors in the caption section.

We will talk more about these two rules further down the article.


What is the Work of a Human Subtitle Maker?

It is the responsibility of the subtitler to subtitle the transcribed audio version of any audio-visual material needing subtitles displayed on a visual medium. Such subtitles are either created in advance or generated entirely in real-time in live recordings. Furthermore, we can classify these subtitles into:

  1. Intralingual: meaning they are first transcribed as text then turned into subtitles
  2. Interlingual: First transcribed, then translated before turning the written words into subtitles

Interestingly, one of the main contributions of a translator in the entertainment industry is to aid in increasing the enjoyment felt among the audience. In other words, people who are either deaf, hard of hearing or can only understand a language different from the spoken one, can also enjoy the entertainment through reading the subtitles.

Likewise, subtitles are useful in translating all the dialogue of a video or audio into captions displayable on-screen. These captions are mostly one to two lines. The small number is vital in reducing the visual interference in a film. However, in audio content, captions can be used as optical video elements that cover the whole screen. Overall, subtitles can appear either in the original content language or in a foreign language.

How do Subtitlers make Subtitles?

When producing subtitles, the first work of a subtitler is to listen and observe the whole video or audio. Then, they proceed to describe the dialogue and voice-overs in written words accurately. Some are even required to describe the music and sound effects too.

If they are to be relevant, captions need to adhere to a couple of rules. Here are the two major ones:

  1. Subtitles need to be spelled and punctuated correctly
  2. The captions need to show up onscreen long enough for an easy read. The displaying time will be depending on the pacing of a dialogue. But if the pace is too fast, it will be quite a challenging task.

In addition to spell checking, translators have the responsibility of ensuring that the captions are not obscuring any of the character’s faces. Neither should the subtitles obscure vital visual cues important in understanding the film. That’s why you’ll likely find many of the captions located at the bottom of the screen in one to two lines.

Subtitle makers can also translate the dialogues into foreign languages by writing the subtitles into the expression of a particular audience. Once completed, the translators will usually send the files to the mastering house. During mastering, specialists transfer the final soundtrack in all the various required format(s) onto the film.

How do People become Subtitlers?

When getting started as a subtitler, it will require a bit of investigation and some form of patience to master. It is also essential to get sufficient training in this kind of field.

Many post-production companies that tend to offer subtitling services tend to train the translators themselves. Otherwise, people can get an MA in subtitling.

Translators can either work as freelancers or as specialized post-production companies can employ them.

Are you already a good subtitler? Join up with Bunny Studio!

Are there Some Personality traits that Make a Good Subtitler?

Many of the traits desirable for subtitling are the same as needed in other roles. The significant difference is that the following characteristics are required to be more in abundance in a subtitler profession. They include:

  • Punctuality: During a live broadcast, timeliness is critical. There is no need to saunter to the work station when a live show is almost commencing.
  • Incredible language skills: After presenting a correctly punctuated and readable sentence having no errors, the live subtitler will likely have their heart skip a beat.
  • Resilience: Live translators need to stay calm and maintain a sense of humor whenever they make a mistake. Mistakes might increase one’s frustrations leading to disorientation, even to the point of getting mad due to the disappointment caused to the audience.

What other Special Skills do Subtitlers Have?

  1. Attentive to detail: Due to tight deadlines, they work precisely with text and timing
  2. Language translators: For translator subtitlers, they can adequately and sensitively translate the highlighted dialogue into the required language. For example, make english subtitle for videos.
  3. Adept in the use of subtitling software
  4. Screen spatial awareness: As previously mentioned in the rules above, translator subtitlers need to understand the impact of captions on the viewing plus understand how they will appear on a screen
  5. Grammar oriented: They use syntax accurately in addition to spelling and punctuation


Determining the Success of Subtitling as a Creative Solution

Apart from the vital skills listed above, the translator must be able to carefully identifying and analyzing the main pillars of subtitling. The three main components include purpose, audience, and context.

As for the audience, targeting people having varying auditory levels will require different subtitling solutions. Thus, the tailor-made solutions are for:

  • The hard of hearing: They have a residual hearing; hence they can share the world of hearers plus the experience of sound to a different degree
  • The healthy: meaning they have normal hearing
  • The deaf using sign language as their first language. They belong to linguistic minority groups.
  • The deaf who are using an oral language as their mother tongue

After choosing from the audiences above, the subtitlers can then set a purpose thus enabling them to provide context. These tailor-made subtitles are useful in bridging the gap between a speaker and their target audience. Henceforth, there are infinite situations translators can employ the pillars, just like a sign language interpreter.

Questions Subtitlers need to ask when Working on Subtitles

  • What is the particular number of characters per line (CPL) suitable for the project?
  • Should they be one line or two lines?
  • How long should the caption display?
  • How should they appear; floating in and out or flashing in and out?
  • What size of font should be suitable?
  • Should they be colored?
  • Must a background accompany them?
  • Will some require extra seconds in enhancing readability? And how will they hinder coherence with the displaying audio-visual elements?
  • Should their information be reduced to fit the space and time constraints?
  • Would it be beneficial to use a unique marker or a particular color in identifying the various speakers?

Asking such questions can help the translator achieve their desired goals.

Summary of a Subtitler’s World

Subtitles can provide immeasurable benefits to people of various ages all having a different story.  Captions have the potential to aid in educating and improving a person’s ability to read and learn. Such learning will help in improving other skills while still developing new ones.

Thus, the subtitler needs not only to reflect but also to complement all these benefits on the way they present the actual subtitles. They need to pay special attention to the editing level of the transcribed text; the different reading speeds; the available time and space; plus, the various ways in which the four types of audiences mentioned in this article relate to sound.  The relationship is in terms of music, speech and sound effects.

If you’ve already got what it takes, join up with Bunny Studio as a subtitler today!