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.



The Importance of Client Education


I have been wanting to quit Facebook recently, but I still follow some of the translation and interpreting groups on there, which makes it impossible to quit cold turkey. I really enjoy scrolling through people’s questions, comments, or even silly photos related to the profession.

Well, yesterday someone posted the following comment in one of the groups: “I have an odd scenario: another interpreter (not really qualified or trained) has been hired at the same event I have. She is asking me for my rate so that she can match it or not charge too high/low. Not sure what/how to answer her? Suggestions?” Continue reading

LinkedIn Endorsements

Like pretty much everyone else out there, I have a LinkedIn profile. And I have to say that although I’m not a huge fan of this social media website, I would like to learn how to use it more often in order to get more work. Do you use LinkedIn to get more work? If so, how? Please feel free to comment.

In any case, the reason for my post is that I have been getting many emails from LinkedIn recently notifying me that my contacts have endorsed me for certain skills. Unfortunately, people are endorsing me for skills that they cannot actually vouch for. For instance, some of my contacts in the translation field have endorsed me for my skills in advertising even though I had never worked with them as an advertising professional (advertising was my previous career). Continue reading

iPhone Apps

I traded in my Samsung android for an iPhone 5 and wanted to share some of the great apps that I have been using. And the best thing is, they are all free!

iCatcher is an app where you can add all of your favorite podcasts. I love the fact that I can see all of my podcasts in one place. It just makes things so much easier especially when you have a lot of podcasts that you want to follow.

-Speaking of podcasts, one of my favorite ones is called “A Way with words“. Be sure to add it in your iCatcher feed. During the show, the two hosts take listener questions regarding words, expressions and anything relating to the english language. If you are a language geek, like I am, then you will love it.

TuneIn radio to listen to my favorite Parisian radio stations!

Words with friends…need I say more?

Word Reference and Termium to look up words while I am on the go

Newscron is a newsfeed, like Flipboard, except that you can turn it into a foreign language news feed. In the settings you can choose any country you want and voilà.

What are some of your favorite language related apps?


I’ve been neglecting my blog lately, but I truly feel as though I have a good excuse…my husband and I sold our house and we moved! It’s been a crazy past few months but I finally feel as though I have some “down time”: I’m taking a course in technical translations through NYU, and I don’t have any big projects on the horizon.

Just as I realized how great it was to have this “down time” I realized that this is in fact the perfect time for me to do some serious business housekeeping! So here’s my “down time to-do” list:

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I Have a Smartphone!

At first, I usually resist trends at first, and I can often go for months, even years sometimes, but in the end I generally give in.

Well, I resisted smart phones until I could resist no more. I’ve been talking about converting to a smart phone for a little while now, but never actually got around to buying one, so my hubby did it for me, last week, for my birthday. I received a beautiful, shiny new Samsung Galaxy Precedent phone!

The reason I changed my mind is because of all of my frustrations from not having one:

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