Creado el: 24/02/2020
Creado por: Marisol Pérez Laglaive

Subtitling Challenges: Cultural References and Wordplays

Subtitling for streaming platforms implies translating content that will be distributed to a very large audience. For on-demand sites, Spanish subtitles are available globally, even in countries where it’s not an official language. Given that the target text should be understood by Spanish speakers across many countries, translating wordplays and cultural references is a task for skilled audiovisual translators only.

While this challenge may also be common to other localization tasks, translating subtitles has another specific and crucial characteristic. They are moving text that doesn’t stay long on the screen, and depending on the media (TV, cinema, on-demand platforms) they cannot be re-read. Thus, the translated text should be effective and as easy and fast to understand as possible.   

Cultural references: challenge accepted

Sometimes, dialogues refer to very specific aspects of the culture of origin of the show, such as cultural products, personalities, food, brands or institutions. Whether to localize them or not should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Leaving the reference as is or translating it literally may leave all the audience to not understand the reference, but adapting it may result in losing some of the original meaning. A skilled audiovisual translator will know which reference is better to leave unlocalized, and which is better to translate or adapt by choosing a similar but not equivalent referent in the target culture, among other available strategies. The translator will decide what is more effective and useful for each situation. Technical requirements are also a factor that can restrict the choice of the target text.

For a better understanding of what cultural references are and how they are treated in subtitles, we can analyze samples of some strategies, for example, in the Spanish LA subtitles of Mad Men’s pilot. 

Source Text Lucky Strike here.
Translation Yo, Lucky Strike.
Used strategy Retention of the source reference as is.


Source Text Not just another Jewish department store?
Translation ¿No es otra tienda judía cualquiera? (“Store”)
Used strategy Generalization.


Source Text He left his manners back at the fraternity house.
Translation Olvidó sus modales en la universidad.  (“University, college”)
Used strategy Substitution of the source reference with a less specific one.

Pun intended

Comedies take the challenge to another level because they are also full of puns and jokes that are difficult to recreate accurately in other languages. The translator of the subtitles has to choose between a literal translation or adapt the joke in the best way possible. Creativity plays a major part in the task, since the translator invents equivalent jokes or wordplays in the target language. Let’s consider one example from BoJack Horseman (S01E01).

Source Text Hey.
-Where? I’d love hay.
Translation Hola. (“Hi”)
-¿Ola? Me encanta surfear. (“Waves? I love surfing”).
Used strategy Transcreation. The translation can recreate the wordplay based on the homophony
between the greeting and another word, and also relates to the character’s action.
However, to maintain the wordplay between the word (“hay”) and the fact of being a horse
was not possible.

A matter of consistency

Regardless of the strategy used to translate cultural references and jokes, maintaining consistency across episodes is crucial. In large team projects, KNP sheets (key names and phrases) are a very common resource. There, the linguistic team can register proposed translations for names, cultural references or jokes, in order to maintain a consistent criterion.

Related Content

Beatriz Cirera

Creado el: 21/02/2020
Creado por: Carolina Arriagada

A Look at How Terra Translations Began with Founder Beatriz Cirera

Terra Translations has been in existence for the past 20 years. Or so it would appear. According to the founder of Terra, Beatriz Cirera, Terra started long before it had an official name. “I had been working as a freelance translator and as a leader of teams of translators, and later as a small agency on my own. Approximately 20 years ago, I thought it was time to give my business more formal structure with a name and an identity,” Beatriz said. Almost two decades later Terra has become a force to be reckoned with in the global translation industry. We wanted to take a look back at Terra’s roots and who better to tell our story than our founder Beatriz Cirera?

On The Mother Daughter Bond

One of the motivators of turning her freelance work into a full blown business was Beatriz had the opportunity to collaborate with her daughter. “I was very happy when Marina told me she decided to prepare for a translation career in school. I felt I could help her and introduce her to the business,” Beatriz said. She believes that choosing Marina as her partner was the natural and logical thing to do. “With her by my side I felt supported and understood. Having a mother and daughter relationship gave us an understanding I know I wouldn’t have with anybody else,” she said. It sounds like a pretty sweet partnership, but the icing on the cake is even sweeter, “Working together has been fun and brought us even closer,” Beatriz noted.

On Our Unique Culture

Starting a business as a family helped create a unique culture at Terra. “I view Terra Translations as a big family, with all that being a family implies. We sincerely care for our employees and linguists,” Beatriz said. She believes treating her employees with the compassion and respect you would give a family member has encouraged the entire team to commit to excellence and to offer great service to our valued clients. She continued, “We believe in ourselves and always act with the ‘family’ in mind. We feel supported and that love is our engine. Love for our team, linguists, clients, community, and for what we do. We believe in the fact that you receive what you give. As my dear father taught me, ‘life is a boomerang’.”

A commitment to supporting women is another key component of what makes Terra’s culture so special. Beatriz feels that it has never been easy for women to succeed in their chosen careers, “Many times family, motherhood, and inequality make women give up their dreams. I speak through experience, having brought up four children while building this company.” Terra is committed to providing valuable employment experiences for women, but also aims to support women outside of Terra through a variety of community outreach efforts, such as participating in Women in Localization. “We wish to share our experiences and help women in any way that we can,” Beatriz emphasized.  

On What the Future Holds

Over the years, Beatriz’s role has evolved significantly. She began as CEO and continued in that role for several years. Three years ago she passed the torch to Marina, “I felt the time had come to move aside, rest more, and have my brilliant daughter take command of the ship,” she said. Currently she acts as an executive consultant, providing support to Marina and the team in any way she can. “The transition was so natural and seemed so logical. It went smoothly and easily,” she said. 

Terra has accomplished a lot over the past fifteen years and the entire team is excited to continue this tradition of hard work and dedication. Beatriz is proud to watch Terra grow and is confident Marina will achieve all of her goals for the company. She is proud of her daughter’s accomplishments and how the company itself has grown and evolved, “I would be proud if Terra accomplished its main goal: grow as a company and grow as a family. I look forward to continue working successfully with our clients and our team.”


Creado el: 18/02/2020
Creado por: Carolina Arriagada

An Insider’s Guide to the Role of an Editor

Accuracy is a vital pillar for our business. At Terra, we achieve the highest accuracy on projects through a critical review process and workflow that includes the role of the Editor. The Editor is imperative in achieving quality deliverables. After the translator has finished their assignment, editing is the next step in the process. Editors are first to revise the translation and the second team member to work with the source text. They compare the target language content against the original to ensure meaning and context are not lost. In addition to this key responsibility, editors must also review and answer queries from translators and Quality Assurance Managers (QAM), evaluate and score quality, and provide constructive feedback to the translator.

A Typical Day in the Role of an Editor

A day likely begins with the Editor checking on new assignments or urgent queries that need to be answered. This typically dictates the pace for the rest of the workday. After deadlines and priorities are sorted, the Editor will dive into an edition. When an edition is completed, the Editor will pass along the project to the next team member in the workflow, the QAM. At Terra, no two days are the same in the role of an Editor. Projects vary in length, difficulty and subject matter because each project requires a different set of linguistic and communication skills.

Why is the Editor Important?

The Editor’s role is valuable because he or she improves the overall quality of the translation with a focus on vocabulary, grammar, semantics, style and punctuation. They review the entire translation comparing it to the source to ensure the original content is rendered accurately in the target language. The Editor also makes certain the target text reads naturally and fluently as if it were not a translation. When large projects are split among multiple translators, the Editor is responsible for keeping consistency across the project that includes terminology and style. Additionally, the Editor certifies that the work complies with the client’s requirements and guidelines.

“The value added to the translation process by the Editor is accuracy, consistency, coherence, compliance and quality,” explained Alejandro Kochol, Editor for Terra. “The translation is polished and the quality of the deliverable is enhanced by the Editor.”

An Editor’s Core Skills

The top skills of an experienced Editor include dynamic linguistic prowess, source and target language knowledge, cultural and subject knowledge, attention to detail, flexibility, adaptability, ability to research and multitask, advanced knowledge of computer and CAT tool software, and excellent communication. 

Discernment is another crucial skill for the Editor. A large component of an Editor’s role is the ability to leave out personal preferences. The Editor should avoid imposing their own style and over-correct the translation. This can pose a challenge because it’s tempting to make changes due to personal choices. If the style used by the translator is appropriate in every aspect, the Editor should recognize this and respect it. 

Common Misconceptions of the Editor

A common misconception is that editing and proofreading are the same tasks. This is not the case. Editing involves improving a translation by comparing the source and target text. Proofreading involves revising the translation alone. The source text is used only as a reference if it is absolutely necessary.

A Love for Language

Most editors have a true passion for linguistics. They also appreciate that every day brings a new set of challenges and they find joy in creating solutions. There is a great power in words and a proficient Editor is meticulous in the use of every word in order to improve the quality of the translation. 

“I love working with texts and languages,” said Alejandro. “I enjoy meticulously examining every part of the translation to adjust errors and ensure nothing is missing. Being an Editor allows me to use my talents to improve the entire translation process.”

Creado el: 10/02/2020
Creado por: Jacqueline De Marco

The Use of Articulate Storyline for the Localization of E-learning Courses

Education can be spread in many ways. From the lessons we teach our children at home to traditional classroom settings. More and more, we’re turning to technology to increase our opportunities for education. And that education doesn’t have to stop after you walk across the graduation stage. E-learning courses can help users pick up new skills or master foreign subject matter from anywhere in the world. These digital courses are particularly helpful for teaching employees how to use new software or aiding them in understanding safety training. If a creator wants their course to have a global reach, there are tools like Articulate Storyline that make the localization and translation of e-learning courses a much simpler process. 

What is Articulate Storyline?

Articulate Storyline is an authoring tool. Similar to Adobe Captivate and Lectora, Articulate Storyline is one of the most popular authoring tools for e-learning courses. One of the main features of this software is that it exports the content of e-learning courses into different file formats. Then, translators can use these files to complete the localization process efficiently. Once the text has been translated into the new language, the new text can be imported to Articulate Storyline. By allowing the user to export all text found in an e-learning course, both time and money can be saved. 

The Features of Articulate Storyline

This handy software has some powerful features that translators can take advantage of. One such feature allows users to export courses into a .xliff file. This file format can be used with most CAT tools. E-learning course creators can benefit greatly from the use of CAT tools as they help increase productivity, save money, and improve consistency and accuracy. 

Another benefit of this software is that it has a text-to-speech feature that offers an alternative to actual voiceover content produced by a professional. While this type of audio will not be as vibrant as that recorded by a professional, it can be helpful to use this feature to catch any mistakes in the text or to calculate what the duration of the slides should be. Ideally, this audio will later be replaced by a real voice-over recording. 

Best Practices for Using Articulate Storyline

The translation of e-learning courses is a complicated process, so when you use Articulate Storyline, you should keep some best practices in mind. One of the most common mistakes that occur when using this tool relates to formating. In order to properly translate and import the file back into Articulate Storyline correctly, the text in the third column must be translated. If you alter any of the text in column one or two, the translated file will not import correctly. 

Another important misstep to avoid is forgetting that the exported file only contains the slide content. You’ll want to localize the text labels of the Articulate Storyline player, such as buttons, tabs, and messages. This is how you can start this process

If you’ve produced a course that has an audio component, you will still need to record the script in the target language and will have to import the new audio files. You’ll want to make the necessary adjustments to ensure that the foreign audio files synch up properly with any on-screen text or graphic elements found in the course. 

Last but not least, before publishing a translated course, it is important to run the course through QA testing. Ideally, a linguist who is a native speaker of the target language, will do a final quality check to make sure that any mistakes are caught and that the learner will have a smooth experience without interruptions to their learning.

Related Content

Translator Marina Ilari

Creado el: 04/02/2020
Creado por: Carolina Arriagada

Translator and CEO: Marina Ilari

A new year and a new decade offer the perfect time to reflect. So are anniversaries. Our team at Terra Translations is continuously inspired by our fearless leader Marina Ilari, so we wanted to look back at her journey from translator to CEO of Terra on the eve of her 3rd anniversary as CEO. As a female CEO in an industry lead by men, Marina has faced her fair share of challenges to build this company. Her passion for giving back to the translation community and supporting women empowerment organizations has never wavered. Last but not least, she has provided employment to over 500 full-time employees and contractors. In short, she’s pretty amazing. 

Her Journey

Marina’s journey towards being the CEO of Terra began in school. She holds a degree in Literary Translation and is certified by the American Translators Association. In her 15 years spent working in the translation industry, she’s become an expert in translation technology and managing translation projects. She received acknowledgement for her business savvy and hard work in 2017. She was awarded the Women Owned Business Enterprise Rising Star Award. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation presents this award to a young business with great promise.

Success was not found without overcoming trials and tribulations. Despite these challenges, Marina has stayed true to her vision for Terra. “The greatest challenge I have faced since starting this company is growing it without sacrificing its culture,” Marina said. Terra began as a mother and daughter endeavor, and the first few hires were within their circle of friends and family, “This created a very special atmosphere within our team that we were able to maintain throughout the years… Our company culture is based on ‘family first’ values that are extended to every member of our team. We work diligently to make sure everyone feels that their voice is being heard and valued.” 

According to Marina, Terra’s culture encompasses the quality of the work we do, as well as the quality of our relationships with our employees, our clients, and our community. She believes that supporting our employees’ whole being serves as the basis of a strategic, financial, and successful human capital strategy. This strategy has happily paid off and has resulted in employee loyalty. We’re proud to report that we have a year over year retention rate of 98%.

A Passion for Giving Back

Marina is committed to giving back to the translation industry, the communities that Terra works within, and women empowerment organizations. Alongside her work as CEO, she participates in a variety of professional organizations such as the American Translators Association, Association of Language Companies, Globalization and Localization Association, and Women in Localization. 

“As an organization, we deeply care about supporting communities with diverse populations and people of Limited English Proficiency (LEP); it is our goal to create an opportunity for all people to have access to information in order to live fulfilled lives,” Marina noted. This goal inspired the evolution and establishment of the Terra Cares program, in which Terra provides pro-bono translation services to select healthcare and legal focused non-profit organizations within our communities.

Where She Hopes to Head Next

When asked where she hopes Terra will be in five years, Marina stated, “I would like Terra Translations to be the number one translation service company in Latin America. What drives this wish to become number one in Latin America is because there is very little diversity in top management in the industry as a whole. From the top twenty largest language service companies, there is only one female CEO.” 

Considering that the majority of translators, interpreters, and linguists that perform the linguistic tasks within the industry are close to 70% women, Marina believes more women in the industry should be in leadership positions. “It has always surprised me that this women-driven industry would not see more diversity at the top. It’s important to bring more diversity to leadership roles in the industry, and I would like to be the person that brings that diversity to the Latin American region,” she said.