How do I set the subtitle timing

Introduction to Subtitling

- This introduction to subtitling was prepared by the Mondo Agit translation agency.

Subtitling is a form of audiovisual translation that has its own techniques, rules and criteria. Before dealing with it, one should know that this type of translation belongs to the "conditional translation". This means that the translations are limited in terms of both display time and space, which has a direct impact on the end result. The translation depends on these two parameters, and it consists not only of translating the content of the text, but also of relying on the image and the sound, with only a certain amount of time and space available Has.

The space we have available for our translation is limited to two lines of subtitles, which are usually placed in the lower center of the screen. No line can contain more than 35 characters (whether letter, symbol or space). So a subtitle (divided into two lines) consists of a total of 70 characters.

As far as the time limit is concerned, the subtitle must appear on the screen for at least one and a maximum of six seconds.

So we can speak of a direct relationship between the display time and the number of characters in a subtitle so that it can be read. These parameters assume an average reading speed. The text, which actually takes six seconds to read, can hardly be read in a shorter time. It is estimated that today's average reading speed is three words per second. So to read a complete subtitle, consisting of two lines and 70 characters (about 12 words), we need at least four seconds. If we now have less time to spend, we also have to use fewer signs.

The subtitling also brings with it a technical part, namely that of timing, i. H. determining where the titles should appear ("spotting" in English). In other words, to calculate the exact moment when the subtitles appear on the screen and then fade out again, so that a synchronization with the sound is created. You should also consider the display duration of the subtitles and the change in camera setting. When changing the setting, the viewer tends to look down again and read the subtitle again. For this reason one should, as far as possible, respect the change of settings and scenes.

The process of creating subtitles consists of the following steps:

- timing: Definition of the points at which the fade-in and fade-out of the subtitles that have been synchronized with the sound should take place, whereby the minimum and maximum display time is calculated, as well as the setting and scene changes.

- Translation (adaptation): The translation of the original, whereby the permitted characters are adapted and coordinated with the display duration of the subtitle.

- simulation: List the translated subtitles with picture and sound to check whether they meet the criteria and can be read without great effort.

- improvement the mistake and retuning of the text.

There are many different professional subtitling programs available; of better and worse quality, at a higher or lower price. The most comprehensive free program is probably "Subtitle Workshop". This tool is easy to download from the Internet and not difficult to use. It allows you to work with the audiovisual file and gradually edit the subtitles. You can specify the exact time of the fading in and out of a subtitle (timing), add the translation (adaptation) and see the result immediately (simulation).

There are a number of basic criteria for adapting the text that remain in place for subtitling. The text of the subtitles should be as natural as possible; with the same punctuation and respecting the orthographic rules and the natural use of the language. However, this should not adopt a telegram style when trying to be adapted to the number of characters. Rather, one should strive for an adjustment that appears informal and correct. Some of the main criteria are:

  • The cut of the subtitle and the separation of the two lines should not separate any unit of meaning. The noun must not be separated from the associated adjective or verb. It should be a natural cut.
  • Use the short dash (-) in a conversation between people. A new line with a dash is used for each intervention.
  • Italics is used in Off-Used voices, songs and audio coming from outside the scene or from electronic devices.
  • Use quotation marks (““), recognized abbreviations, digits and, if possible, avoid capitalized words (for titles, posters or text in the picture)

The ideal end result is that the subtitles are synchronized with the audiovisual document and that the viewer can read them fluently with little effort. He should hardly even be aware that he is reading, but rather perceive image, audio and text at the same time.

Interesting links

Download the subtitle workshop: