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.