Subtitle translations

Over the past year, I’ve been working a lot as a subtitle translator. And I must say,  I love this work! The reason I actually got into the translation industry was because I wanted to translate subtitles. I love movies and I grew up watching (way too much) TV, so it seemed like a natural choice. But I really vowed to become a subtitle translator after seeing countless movies that had bad subtitles. On many occasions, my movie-watching experience was ruined because I knew that the subtitles were off or even simply wrong. I knew that I could make the world a better place with better subtitles!

I also love the fact that I can make my own schedule with my client and take on as many shows/movies as I can handle… After all, my 19-month old toddler is my full-time job!

The way I broke into the industry was quite unexpected. I was on a T&I forum on Facebook and saw that someone posted a comment saying: “If you’re interested in subtitle translations, please contact so-and-so”. So, I immediately contacted that person and sent them my resume. Luckily, they replied back, hired me and I’ve been working for them ever since.

The process usually consists of me downloading the video file and receiving a word document with the transcript (in French) and time codes. It’s important to watch the video before and during the translation process since intonation and context can greatly affect meaning and word choice. Once I have my files, I translate directly into the word document and send it back once I’m done.

I tried using Fluency to help speed up the process but I wasn’t able to make it work. My software kept freezing because of my large files (the word documents can be over 100 pages), and I was concerned that it would affect the formatting and mess up the time codes.

Each line can only accept 37 characters (with spaces), and each subtitle is limited to two lines, which means that you can’t always write everything you would like.

Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to manage to get the meaning across while respecting the space constraints:

-Shorter is always better. Sometimes certain thoughts have to be edited down to make everything fit. “He lived in the red house, on the hill”, I’d consider deleting “red” or “on the hill”… It’s really a judgment call, but if you think that it’s unnecessary or repetitive information, then it might be worth deleting in order to fit the space.

-Editing really is key. For instance: “Just say that she’s sick” there’s no need for “that” in the sentence, “I don’t think so” can become “I doubt it”, the year 1999 can be shortened to  ’99…etc. Always think of a shorter way to say the same thing.

– I find that “Ça va?” is more often than not a simple “Hi!” or “Hey!” It’s not necessarily “How are you?” Keep the context in mind rather than the literal translation. Imagine yourself in the character’s’ shoes. What would you say in that moment, if you were them?

-If they curse on-screen, then your subtitles need to reflect that… The formality of language must be the same. Translating a movie with French street talk means that you need to know US slang and urban expressions.

-If a character emphasizes something or yells, that must be reflected through punctuation.

-Make sure that you fact-check everything. Always do your research and make sure that the city you have never heard of, the fruit you’ve never seen in your life, or that strange-looking animal’s name is spelled correctly. Never assume that the transcript writer did that for you. In fact, you should always assume that it might be incorrect and double-check everything. Someone out there reading your subtitles, does know the correct spelling and will know if it’s incorrect. Let’s not encourage others to want to do our jobs just because we didn’t do it well enough!

-When I translate, I actually have the bilingual viewer in mind the whole time. I think about ways to “impress” them. I don’t just want them to be satisfied with the subtitles, but I want them to think, “good choice”, “I wouldn’t have thought of that” etc. It’s essential that the subtitles are really adapted to the language and culture of your viewers. They have to feel as though the characters are genuinely saying the words that you chose for them, and it should sound natural according to the context. Recently, I translated “C’est fou de te retrouver comme ça” to “I can’t believe you are here” which worked with the storyline. My first draft was “it’s crazy to seeing you again”, but upon proofreading it, I realized that this did not sound quite as natural.



Ask and You Shall Receive

Next week, I am returning to the CDC for another 3 week conference during which I will be interpreting simultaneously. This is a difficult and a technical conference. I have worked at this conference twice in the past though so I am getting pretty familiar with the vocabulary.

When I got the call for the job, I was offered the same day rate as before. No surprise there, after all, why would they decide to increase the rate? But since the rate had not changed since my first time there (1 and a half years ago) and since I am getting comfortable with the vocabulary, I decided that an increase would be welcome.

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NYU Technical Translation class

In September, I started my penultimate class before receiving my Certificate in Translation from NYU. This class is in technical translation taught by Blandine Anwar and it is both very interesting and very challenging.

So far, we have covered a variety of fields. Just to name a few we have translated documents relating to airplanes, patents, robotics, mechanics, the medical field and computers. Here is some of the vocabulary we’ve had to translate: “angle of attack”, “volatile memory”, “four-stroke combustion cycle”, “drug-coated heart stent”. Not exactly words that we use every-day.

Before starting the class, I honestly thought that I would just take the class, but not actually ever work as technical translator because it just seemed so intimidating. But after completing most of this course,  I have changed my approach. Indeed, technical translations can be challenging and might require more work than say, a marketing translation, but they are not impossible.

Here are a few things I have noted so far. A good technical translator: Continue reading

Interpreting and Rapping?

One of my husband’s friends works in a recording studio. This recording studio is run and owned by a rapper called Big Boi. He is one half of the grammy-award winning Outkast duo. Their most famous songs are “Hey ya” and “Sorry, Ms. Jackson”. Well, Big Boi was recording his new album and wanted to have French vocals on one of the songs. So my hubby’s friend thought of me! I went into the studio pretty nervous since I had no idea what to  say, or what was expected of me. Continue reading

The Twenty-Minute Rule

I just finished working for the CDC where I was on assignment doing simultaneous interpreting for the Stop Transmission to Polio program. It was fascinating. I learned so much, not only about Polio but also about interpreting. During the two-week period, I met and worked with some very nice interpreters who talked to me about some of our colleagues. I found out that apparently, some interpreters have a 20 mn rule, meaning that they refuse to interpret any more or any less than 20mn.

I understand the need for us to work the same amount, but geez, I’d hate to be stopped if I feel really good about a speaker, or about a particular topic. I don’t mind working a little more if it feels good.

Also, if we know that the presentation is almost done, then why hand over the mic? Why not just finish it off, for the benefit of the listener?

And what about Q&A sessions? I think it makes sense to have one person interpret the questions and the other one interpret the answers, again for the benefit of the listener. It’s just nicer to listen to. Well, often times the questions will be shorter. Should that interpreter work more afterwards?

It’s only normal that booth partners split up the amount of time they work equitably, I am not saying the contrary, but do we really need to set a chronometer?

As interpreters we must be supportive of one another, offer to take over if the other person is struggling, offer to write down numbers, bring water, and be flexible. In my opinion looking at one’s watch in this way only sets us apart from one another, adds unnecessary stress, and demonstrates an inability, or unwillingness, to adapt to situations.

Do you agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts? Experiences?

Update-Department of State exam

After landing in Washington, I went straight to my hotel using the public transportation system, which was very easy to use. The hotel was actually only two stops away from the airport! I even had my first interpreting assignment right then and there in the subway helping a few French businessmen understand the metro attendant.  🙂

The hotel I stayed in (the DoubleTree in Crystal City) was close enough to the city that I could travel to my exam location using the metro, but it was far enough away that there was a significant difference in price. What I loved about this hotel, was the view I had during dinner from their rotating restaurant: the Pentagon, the Washington monument, the Capitol and the Jefferson memorial. During dinner, I even met with a lobbyist from Michigan, who was there to speak with her Senator. It was very interesting to be able to speak with someone who was passionate about her beliefs and was actually doing something to make a difference. Continue reading

Preparing For The Department of State Exams

A few weeks ago I decided to fill out an online application (update-this is no longer available on their website) to be a consultant interpreter and translator for the Department of State. I mailed it thinking that I would never hear back and that I had just wasted a stamp.

Well, much to my surprise, I did hear back. I got a call from an interpreter who wanted to schedule a phone screening/small interpreting test for later on in the afternoon. It was consecutive interpreting and even though I was nervous and it was hard, I somehow managed to pass which meant that I received an invitation to go take the interpreting exam in DC, at my own expense.

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