A closer look at subtitling

It has to be said, few foreign language films make much of a splash in mainstream cinema in anglophone countries. Notable exceptions from over the years include “Life is Beautiful” (Italy), “Amélie” and “Blue Is the Warmest Color” (France) and “Y Tu Mamá También” (Mexico) and “Volver” (Spain). Of course, this wealth of foreign language films would not be accessible to an English-speaking public without the help of subtitles.

The subtitling process

There is more to subtitling video content than meets the eye. It is a process that comprises several stages.

Firstly, the video must be transcribed. Transcription is the longest stage, as the transcriber must listen to and write down exactly what the actors say, as well as noting the time code for each part. Next comes the translation phase. But herein lies the catch: the translation must convey the original meaning, but without being too long, as it has to fit on screen and spectators must have enough time to read it, in sync with the relevant images! Therefore, the translator often has to perform some linguistic gymnastics in order to find the shortest word or turn of phrase. Once the translation has been completed, software is used to insert the subtitles, taking care to place the time codes in the right place, so that the subtitles correspond to the action on screen.


What are advantages of watching subtitled content?

Thanks to subtitles, a whole world of foreign language films is available to you! Not only does this open the door to a plethora of different cultures, watching foreign films or series can also be a useful tool when learning a language.

 Hearing native speakers talking in their mother tongue is one of the best ways to learn a language. You will become familiar with different accents and encounter idiomatic expressions, and your vocabulary will improve significantly if you regularly watch films in their original languages.

It is always more interesting to watch films and series in their original languages, as so much emotion and meaning is conveyed through tone of voice. Although voice-over artists attempt to convey the same emotion, it is never the same as the original actor’s own voice.



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