How to Be a Subtitler

How to Be a Subtitler

Have you ever watched a film or a T.V program and got annoyed by the inconsistency of the spoken words and the featured subtitles? If there was a function to switch off such subtitles, you are forced to activate it and struggle to hear what the actors or presenters are saying. Professionally done subtitling is important in several ways.

  • It helps viewers who do not understand the primary language the program or the film is presented in.
  • It helps those who are hard of hearing to understand the spoken word of the program and hence fully benefit from it.
  • It is an alternative way of reaching a wider audience without using voiceover services which in some cases may be more expensive or impractical for an audience in 1) or 2) above.

Learning how to become a professional in subtitling can help achieve the above and avoid unintelligibly subtitles that don’t make sense to the viewers. The following are helpful ways to achieve the aims good subtitling.


  1. Choose your subtitling language

Effective subtitling that makes sense depends on the translator’s understanding of the film/T.V program language and the subtitle (target) language. This knowledge allows you to use the right words and tone in your subtitles and not just mere word for word translation which more often than not creates an annoying flow of ideas.

  1. Editing

As a professional subtitling translator, you must learn how to edit the information in the target language subtitles without losing the meaning of the spoken words in the primary language. This is a vital aspect of good subtitling because spoken words flows faster than the written words. While in some cultures, or depending on the theme of the film/program, cursing and using expletives is considered okay, this may not be the case in the subtitle language. This must be edited and cut-out.

Your editing must be done in such a way that the viewer will have enough time to read the subtitles in the time slotted for them on the screen.

  1. Understand the culture of the people

Learning this allows you to know how to construct your subtitle sentences in a sensible way. It will also help you to edit your work in a way that leaves the viewer satisfied and not embarrassed (see 2 above on editing) by what they are reading.

  1. Learn to use professional subtitling software

This can save you time. However, your human subtitling professionalism is still needed because machines are not designed to think. As such, your input is needed to come up with finished subtitles that meets the expectations of the viewer be it for information or entertainment purposes.

  1. Professional courses and certification

A general translator can branch off and do subtitling. However, this is a specialized area in the translation field which demands special knowledge. You may have to go through a course and get certification. This is important especially where you expect to work with governmental or nonprofit organizations. As a remotely working freelancer, certification may not be an absolute must but it reflects well on you if it’s part of your profile.

  1. Choose your field

There are many areas where subtitles are needed. Decide which type of content you want to specialize in and perfect your subtitling work in that field. Some areas will need professional background. For example subtitling for medical, legal and technology related information will be more appropriate for translators with backgrounds in those fields.

  1. Location

A subtitling professional must consider where they will work. Certain language combinations, chosen subtitling fields and nature of work (film or T.V) may require you to relocate. Consider this in advance for a well thought-out career progression in subtitling.

As a subtitling professional, you are an important link in informing or entertaining people who would otherwise not have understood the content in its primary (source) language.

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