10 Best Practices for Subtitle Localization

By GeaSpeak Team | 2021-07-08

Who has not dreamt of translating the subtitles for their favorite series? Today we will get you one step closer to your dream by providing 10 subtitle localization best practices that help you meet the requirements for this kind of assignments. They span the basics as well as linguistic and formatting considerations.

Here we go:

  1. Refer to the source video at all times. Make sure you know who is speaking and who is being addressed to make sure you use the correct pronouns and verb conjugations. Take advantage of the tone of voice and the on-screen text and images to ensure you are grasping the meaning.
  2. Make sure you meet the specified character restriction. If not provided, always raise a query on this regard so as to avoid any unpleasant surprises later.
  3. Aim at simple syntax structures and a concise translation. Always prioritize the active voice over the passive and reorder sentence components as necessary to achieve clarity and fluency. Canonical order will be your best choice.
  1. Subtitles can have 1 or 2 lines. When working in Trados Studio or any other CAT Tool, check for symbols showing line breaks  and tags signaling the beginning and end of subtitles to make sure you are not creating a three-line subtitle. In the example below taken from a project worked in Trados Studio, the purple tags represent the beginning and end of each subtitle, while the arrows represent line breaks. In the second screenshot, we have 4 subtitles, the last of which contains 2 lines:
  1. Always be careful about line-breaks. They should not split:
    • A determiner or modifier from its head
    • A preposition from its prepositional term
    • A conjunction from the subsequent phrase
    • A verb from its object
    • An auxiliary from its verb
    • A pronoun from its verb
    • Proper names
  1. For two-line subtitles, try to use a pyramidal format, i.e., the upper line should be shorter than the lower line. This saves screen space.
  1. Do not use two lines if the translation fits in one. This applies even if the source subtitle is made up of two lines. In the example below, there is a totally unnecessary line break after “And” which has been removed in the translation:
  1. Avoid translating:
    • Unnecessary repetitions
    • Interjections/verbal cues, such as “Well”, “So”, “Then”, “Oh”, “Hmm”, etc.
    • Truncated phrases. You will usually find them when the speaker starts conveying an idea and stops to start a new sentence or idea

If a segment contains an interjection or a truncated phrase and nothing else, check with your client if you should just leave it empty, insert a phrase between brackets stating that the segment has been intentionally untranslated or complete it with a non-breaking space.

  1. If two different people talk in one subtitle, use dashes and different lines to show the words belong to different individuals. Check if your customers have any specific instructions on this regard (like using only one dash for the words of the second speaker, using spaces after dashes or not, etc.).
  1. As a general rule, spell out numbers from one to ten and use numerals for numbers over ten.