Mastering the Art of Audiovisual Translation

Dive into the specialised field of audiovisual translation with Translationz AU.

This guide covers the complexities of subtitling and captioning, highlighting the importance of cultural nuances and technical skills needed to deliver engaging and accessible media translations in over 50 languages.

Mastering the Art of Audiovisual Translation

In 2021, there’s been a buzz about audiovisual translation, particularly regarding captioning and subtitling.

At Translationz, we’ve been quite intrigued by the discussions surrounding the translation issues in “Squid Game”, that is why we decided that it would be beneficial to delve into it and discuss the intricacies of audiovisual translation—or the craft of subtitling.

Is it truly challenging to perform audiovisual translation? What must translators undertake to create top-notch subtitles?

close captioning audio visual translation

Perhaps you’re a translator or an aspiring one, eager to gain insights into this specialised field.

Or you might have a video that you wish to be translated, but you’re unsure about what the process entails.

Fear not—we’re here to address your queries with our guide on audiovisual translation!

What is Audiovisual Translation?

Audiovisual translation (AVT) is a specialised field within language translation that involves converting spoken language in media content—from films and television shows to corporate presentations and online videos—into another language.

This process encompasses subtitles, which are written translations of the dialogue displayed at the bottom of the screen, and dubbing, where the original audio is replaced with a new recording in the target language.

Sample image of audiovisual translation in a movie

The goal of audiovisual translation is not only to translate the language but also to capture cultural nuances, humor, idioms, and emotional tones, ensuring that the content remains accessible and engaging for a diverse audience.

This intricate task requires a deep understanding of both the source and target languages, as well as the cultural contexts of the audience, making audiovisual translation both an art and a technical skill.

The Significance of Audiovisual Translation

“Squid Game” has quickly ascended to the top of Netflix’s chart, boasting 111 million viewers and becoming the platform’s most successful original launch with a valuation of $900 million.

However, much of the initial conversation surrounding the series focused on the quality of its translation.

Youngmi Mayer, a TikTok user proficient in both Korean and English, was among the first to raise concerns. She noted that the subtitles often altered the meaning of entire sentences, significantly distorting the show’s intended messages and themes.

It was later discovered that the issue stemmed from the subtitle settings viewers chose. For a more accurate translation, the ‘English’ subtitle option was preferable over ‘English (CC)’ or Closed Captions..

This revelation brings up an important question: why is there such a notable discrepancy between the ‘English’ and ‘English (Closed Captions)’ options?

What is the difference between Captions and Subtitles?

Captions and subtitles both appear as text on the bottom of a screen, but they serve distinct purposes and cater to different audiences.

Subtitles are designed primarily for viewers who do not speak the audio language of the content. They translate the spoken dialogue into another language, helping viewers understand the narrative without altering the original audio track.

subtitling as audiovisual translation

This makes subtitles essential for enjoying foreign films, TV shows, and videos without losing the authentic sound of the original language.

Captions, on the other hand, are intended for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

They provide a written representation of the audio track, including dialogue, relevant sound effects, speaker identifications, and other auditory information that is crucial for understanding the context and storyline.

Closed captions (CC) can be turned on or off as needed, while open captions are always visible.

Understanding these differences is crucial for content creators and translators, as it influences how they approach the audiovisual translation process to ensure accessibility and inclusivity for all audience segments.

Key Challenges in Audiovisual Translation

Audiovisual translators face several unique challenges that differentiate their work from traditional text translation:

  1. Synchronisation: The translated text must align with the timing and pace of the original audio and visuals.
  2. Cultural Nuances: Translators must navigate cultural references, idioms, and humor that may not have direct equivalents in the target language.
  3. Space Limitations: Subtitles, for example, require concise translations that fit on the screen and can be read quickly.

What Makes a Good Translation?

A good translation does more than merely swap words between languages; it bridges cultural gaps and conveys the original tone, style, and message of the source material.

To achieve this, translators must have a deep understanding of both the source and target languages, as well as the cultures associated with each.

This knowledge helps them interpret and convey idiomatic expressions, humor, and cultural references accurately.

Accuracy is crucial, but so is readability.

A high-quality translation flows naturally in the target language and is easy for the audience to understand, without feeling like a translated text.

This requires linguistic skill and creative adaptation, especially when dealing with complex content like poetry, slang, or jargon.

Lastly, consistency is key in maintaining the integrity of the translated material.

This involves using a uniform style and vocabulary throughout the piece, which is particularly important in large projects or ongoing works like series or sequels.

A good translation should always feel cohesive, as if it were originally written in the language into which it has been translated.

Best Practices for Audiovisual Translators

To achieve high-quality audiovisual translations, practitioners should adhere to several best practices:

  • Understand the Context: Knowledge of the source and target culture is crucial to convey the original tone and intent.
  • Use Technology: Leveraging software tools can help manage timing and synchronisation effectively.
  • Continuous Learning: Keeping up-to-date with linguistic changes and industry standards is essential.

The Unique Guidelines of Audiovisual Translation

In the realm of audiovisual translation, such as captioning and subtitling, specific rules govern character limits per line and second, as well as the duration subtitles must remain visible on screen.

Audiovisual translators are trained to craft subtitles within these constraints: no more than 42 characters per line and 20 characters per second, with each subtitle appearing on screen for a minimum of one second.

These standards can vary between languages.

For instance, Chinese subtitles are typically limited to 16 characters per line, reflecting the language’s character-based structure where each character represents a complete word.

These subtitling guidelines are designed around the average reading speed, the capacity of the human brain to process words per minute, and the speed at which the eye can move across a line of text.

Numerous intricate factors are considered to establish these rules, all with the goal of producing accessible, easy-to-read subtitles for viewers.

Strategies for Effective Audiovisual Translation

In audiovisual translation, translators must adhere to certain best practices and standards, which vary across different organisations.

While numerical constraints and subtitling standards provide a structural framework, the art of subtitling goes beyond mere quantification.

Subtitles must flow naturally and appear seamlessly integrated with the dialogue, requiring strategic placement at natural speech breaks.

This often demands creativity from translators, particularly when dealing with languages that have unique grammatical structures.

For instance, viewers of foreign films and TV shows might notice timing discrepancies in subtitles, where information appears too early or too late.

This can be attributed to linguistic differences, such as in Japanese where verbs typically appear at the end of sentences.

To address this, translators might rearrange sentences in the target language to ensure that subtitles align properly with the on-screen action.

Therefore, producing high-quality subtitles is not simply about accurate translation; it also involves thoughtful adaptation to maintain synchronisation with the visual elements, illustrating that excellent translations don’t automatically guarantee excellent subtitles.

​​Enhancing Your Video Translations: Tips for Optimal Subtitling

Translating video content is no small feat, often requiring translators to make tough decisions and compromises.

However, as a content producer, there are strategies you can employ to ensure your subtitles are not only accurate but also aesthetically pleasing.

1. Control the Pace of Speech

While your video’s dialogue doesn’t need to crawl, maintaining a controlled, steady speech rate can significantly enhance subtitle quality.

This pace allows subtitles to remain on screen longer, ensuring they align well with the spoken content.

If the dialogue is too rapid, translators may be forced to condense the subtitles, potentially stripping away valuable details you wanted to share. A slower pace allows for a richer, more faithful translation.

2. Incorporate Pauses

Utilising natural pauses in your audio can greatly assist the translation process.

Similar to slowing down speech, pauses help keep subtitles on screen longer, preventing them from flipping too quickly and overwhelming the viewer. These breaks give both translators and viewers a moment to digest the content.

3. Design Content with Translation in Mind

This strategy isn’t exclusive to audiovisual content but it’s crucial. Writing with an eye towards translation means aiming for clarity and simplicity.

Opt for straightforward language, steer clear of jargon and slang, and be cautious with humor, especially puns, which might not translate well or could be misinterpreted in other cultures.

Remember, complex expressions can complicate the translation process, leading to potential inaccuracies.

These tips can make a significant difference in the quality of your translated videos.

Interested in Learning More?

As a dedicated language service provider, Translationz AU specialises in multicultural communications, offering translation and subtitling services in more than 50 languages.

We are eager and prepared to assist you with your needs.

To receive a quote today, please contact us here.

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