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Subtitling refers to lines of text in films and other visual media that provide written information about what is depicted. Subtitles are used in films to translate spoken content from a foreign language or to make it comprehensible for the hearing impaired. However, subtitling can also be used as a stylistic device.

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Subtitling in films

Subtitles, also called captions, make films accessible to all. Subtitling is about synchronising the text sections with the image in such a way that the viewer can read along without much effort and follow the image and audio at the same time. A distinction is made between intralingual and interlingual subtitles: Intralingual means that the subtitles correspond to the original language of the film, interlingual means that they are shown in another language.

How to create interlingual subtitles

There are various ways to create subtitles – for example, by hiring an agency. Usually, the original sound is first transcribed by a native speaker before a translator transfers it into the desired language. Once the passages of the film where the subtitles are to fade in and out have been identified, the translation is adapted to the display duration of the subtitle. This is because it is not so much a matter of translating what is said faithfully as of adapting it to the meaning, taking various parameters into account. The subtitling is then examined for errors in a simulation.

Subtitling requirements

Timing is particularly important when creating subtitles: the viewer must have enough time to read the subtitles without losing sight of the image. As a rule, the maximum duration for showing subtitles is six seconds. The space is usually limited to two lines that appear at the bottom of the screen.

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FAQ: More questions about subtitling

What is a subtitle?

A subtitle is a section of text that makes films understandable in written form. It is usually displayed at the bottom of the screen.

What are subtitles for the hearing impaired?

Subtitles make films accessible for the hearing impaired. In addition to the written dialogue, sounds are also presented in the subtitles.

How long does it take to subtitle?

The time it takes to create subtitles can vary greatly. Human-generated subtitles are usually created within two to five days. Subtitling software enables captions to be generated within a few minutes. However, qualitative fluctuations are to be expected.

How much does subtitling cost?

Prices for subtitling vary depending on the provider and the service options booked. Agencies charge according to lines and language. Here’s an example: For a four-minute video that is to be provided with English subtitles, about 80 lines of work are to be expected. Here, the translation costs are on average £70.

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