The Value of DTP Services in Translation Workflows

The Value of DTP Services in Translation Workflows

The workflows Language Services Providers manage include more than the translation or edition of a source text. A certain project may need other professional services to ensure a finished and high-quality deliverable. These tasks can be voice-over, subtitling, video editing or graphic design, among others.

Specifically, when translating textual materials (like flyers, books, handbooks, posters, brochures, and so on), desktop publishing (DTP) is a crucial part of the workflow. In the localization industry, the DTP service mainly implies formatting a translated document using page layout software. Specialists recreate the original format, taking into account typesetting and layout, graphics, images, etc.

However, DTP specialists can also work before the translation begins, preparing documents so they are suitable for import into CAT tools. Hence, DTP is a process that can take place before or/and after translation.

Editable documents

Textual materials can be files stored in many different editable formats. The most common and accessible in the industry are Word documents and InDesign documents (IDML). These can be imported into CAT tools, which has many advantages in a translation workflow. Namely because they provide features that help with consistency and accuracy, like translation memories, termbases and quality assurance settings.

If the documents have non-editable images or graphics with text (maps, charts, diagrams), DTP specialists can extract it. Once it’s translated, they insert the text in the graphics retaining the original format.

Scanned documents

DTP specialists can also process and prepare scanned documents and photographs of textual materials that need translation. As stated before, it is always better to have as input for translation an editable text, since with it, the management and linguistic team can process it using a CAT tool.

Optical character recognition (OCR) is a technology that can distinguish printed or handwritten text characters in digital images or scanned paper documents. This way, it’s possible to get an editable version of the text, suitable for edition, formatting, searching and data processing. So, by using OCR software, DTP specialists can provide the translation team with editable documents from non-editable source texts.

However, to get an editable input document is not always possible. Some scanned documents have several pages with unintelligible handwriting or bad quality resolution, so OCR software doesn’t come with good results. In these cases, translators must work from them directly.

Extract of a scanned document processed with OCR

The final eye

DTP is not the final step of a project involving it. After the DTP specialist has worked on the files, a linguist (it can be part of the project or someone specialized in the task) must proofread the material. This last editor will review the formatted document in order to ensure the target text is accurately embedded in the original layout. He or she will also check that DTP specialists inserted no involuntary mistakes during their work process. Furthermore, they search for omissions, bad line breaks, spacing errors, spelling and punctuation errors, and text aspect.

Linguist Profiling What Makes an Ideal Candidate for Post-editor

Linguist Profiling: What Makes an Ideal Candidate for Post-editor

The implementation of machine translation (MT) impacts the localization workflow with increased rates of productivity because it reduces delivery times and costs. But it also has other consequences, like redefining the traditional roles that language professionals assume in the industry, such as editor, proofreader, or translator. 

One of the most requested tasks in the MT workflow is post-edition, the process of improving a machine translation output. Only certain professionals stand out in this task. They are a specific type of editors that have the required technical, psychological, and linguistic skills. Let’s find out what you need to be an ideal post-editor. 

Papers please

First and foremost, a certification in translation, language studies, or linguistics is a must in the profile of a post-editor. If not, as per ISO 18587:2017, the post-editor must have at least five years’ experience in translating or post-editing. These are requirements that intend to guarantee  translation service providers work with top-quality professionals.

A whole lot of competences

A quality-oriented translation workflow is rooted in  the proper selection of the professionals involved in a project. This is also the case for MT workflows. The following list summarizes the competencies that are part of the ideal post-editor profile. 

1  Translation competence
2 Linguistic and textual competence (source language and target language)
3 Research and information processing skills
4 Cultural knowledge
5 Technical competence (MT systems + CAT tools)
6 Domain Content Knowledge

Post-editors are, like any other translation professional, proficient in both source and target language and culture. They know how to conduct efficient research of terminology and manage the information. Also, they master the specific domains, since this implies an expert understanding of the source text. 

Lastly, post-editors must be skilled in IT resources, like CAT tools, but also be acquainted with MT systems. The post-editors that fulfill the required profile know MT models (neural, statistical, example-based, rule-based) and their differences. Furthermore, they are aware of the most common errors in each system. Thus, they can manage more efficiently their attention and spot mistakes quickly.

The two A’s: Aptitude and Attitude

MT workflow

There are differences between the profiles of MT post-editors and TEP editors. Both are  detail-oriented linguists, but in addition post-editors must be fast and efficient, implementing minor and quick changes in the short time provided for the edition. 

Moreover, a salient feature of post-editors is their predisposition or flexible attitude. Sometimes language professionals are reluctant to the implementation of MT. But MT is just one solution in the fast-growing translation industry, whose core business remains the same, regardless of its growth or of the MT implementation. Successful post-editors are confident and creative, and they adapt willingly to the new roles the industry has to offer.

A Doorway to Subtitling: Open or Closed. About Subtitling Types and Styles

On the internet we can watch a movie, read the news, explore endless options of items to purchase, order food and even take online courses, among countless other actions. We have access to that content (text, video, images, audio) across the globe because, in most cases, it is available in different languages. This is possible due to media localization, a process that not only involves the translation of text or audio but also other services, such as subtitling, graphic design, web design, audio recording, etc.

Specifically, for translating e-learning courses and audiovisual material, subtitling is a very common resource. But there are many types and styles of subtitling available when deciding how to translate content, depending on every need. The most important distinction is between closed captioning and open subtitling, because their aspect, audience and function are different.

1) Closed Captioning

Closed Captioning is a specific type of subtitle, an accessibility resource. Its function is, primarily, to make content available to people who have hearing impairments. In real-time captioning (used in live shows or news programs), online subtitlers create a caption of what is being said so people can read it. They type, use a dictation software or a stenography system. Also, it is possible to generate a caption file offline, with pre-recorded material.

Some of the Closed Caption characteristics are the following:

  • It includes sound effects, such as [laugh], [music], [thunder].
  • They can be turned on or off with a remote control (in TV systems).
  • Audio language and text language are the same. 
  • It’s widely used in e-learning courses, streaming platforms and TV.
  • Text is displayed on a black background.
  • It’s also useful where silence is required (offices, waiting rooms) or as a hearing support (to learn languages, bad audio quality).

2) Open Subtitling

Open Subtitling is the most common type of subtitling, the one we can find in movies or programs in foreign languages. Its function is to translate source text and audio into another language.

However, SDH (Subtitles for the Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing) are a type of open subtitle that has another purpose. They have the same function as Closed Captioning but look like common subtitles.

The main characteristics of open subtitling are the following:

  • In traditional TV systems or theatres, subtitles cannot be turned off, because they are embedded in the video.
  • Subtitles are displayed without a contrasting background.
  • Audio language and text language are different: it’s a translation.
  • In SHD, audio and text language are the same.
  • SDH have sound effects and speakers’ identification.

Rules and Guidelines

Before working on a subtitling task, it’s important to know if the project has any technical parameters,  as well as preferences about subtitling type and style, speakers’ IDs treatment and letter case. 

Furthermore, subtitlers must comply with the specifications provided in customers’ style guides, if any, which set style and technical expectations for the captioned or translated text.

As we can see, there are a lot of options when looking for a media localization solution. All of these promote inclusion while helping clients’ audiences expand one subtitle at a time.

How to Recruit Talent Worldwide: An Interview with Natalia Quintás

These last months, remote work has been a resourceful way of maintaining productive operations of non-essential jobs across the globe. But for companies that are beginning to operate online and for those that have a background of remote working, it’s important to embrace the specificities of this model. For instance, there are strategies for organizing a daily schedule or for establishing effective channels of communication.

More importantly, behind every great virtual team, there are great professionals suitable for the task and, hence, talent recruitment comes to the scene. Remote staff selection implies a different process of recruitment planning, execution and applicants’ evaluation.

To have the insight from an expert, we interviewed Natalia Quintás, Terra Translations’ Director of Human Resources. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and 18 years’ experience in the field of human resources. Also, she has been managing the virtual recruitment of Terra’s talents, both freelancers and in-house teams, for six years.

Terra Translations: What are the benefits for recruitment from a work-from-home model?

Natalia Quintás: Operating remotely implies a wide range of possibilities for Human Resources departments. The first important advantage is that the search will be boundless: we can really focus on talent, experience and education, because applicants’ location won’t be a limit for us. Thus, we can really work with the best, and with those professionals who match most with the company vision.

Terra: How does remote recruitment differ from on-premises recruitment?

Natalia: The most salient difference is that in online recruitment we can’t meet face to face. But it can be easily rectified. An experienced hunter identifies the suitable talent executing specific actions, that include active listening, providing online personality tests and planning a smart and effective competencies’ based interview.

Terra: Which are the best practices to manage global recruitment efficiently?

Natalia: First of all, recruiters have to define a strategy based on their requirements. If in need of talent with a very specific profile, it’s better if HR managers search for it (or “hunt”) in professional social media platforms. However, for general positions, as translators or editors in our industry, a job posting will be more useful.

Second, recruiters of course need to know English, so they can communicate with applicants around the world. In that regard, it’s important to build a strong and wide network of contacts in social media, specifically on LinkedIn. That way, we make sure that the job posts are reaching more people. With a good contact network, we are increasing the likelihood that the right person reads the offer.

Terra: Is there a specific way of carrying out the recruitment process? How do you do it?

Natalia: Because virtual recruiters don’t meet with candidates, we try to compensate for that fact. First, it’s crucial to use a webcam on both sides. Second, it’s very useful to conduct an interview based on competencies. Before the search and the interview, we define which skills the candidate needs to master for a certain position. With indirect questions and remarks, an experienced recruiter will be able to check these competencies during the interview.

Furthermore, online personality tests can be handy. They are not a selection test, but they help to assess the management profile of applicants or employees. Sometimes, the recruitment process also includes a technical test to measure the required knowledge for a certain position.

Lastly, as recruiters we must communicate clearly and sincerely from the beginning. This implies notifying the responsibilities and required or desired skills. Finally, we must always show gratitude for the time of the interview. We are one of the faces of the company we represent, and we have to convey correctly the values of our organization’s culture.

A Remote Force Era is Coming

The COVID-19 outbreak and the measures taken to control it changed the reality of many countries around the globe. In addition to the emphasis on healthcare and health systems, the pandemic put the spotlight on the concept of work. Globally, we realized the essential nature of some jobs and the value they have in a community. We also learned that other jobs, which were always placed in offices, can be carried out from home.

Offices on the move

During this critical pandemic period, the modality of remote work allowed a lot of companies to maintain their operations; hence, employees could preserve their jobs. Some industries were already offering days of home office as an employment benefit. Others operate under different levels of remote models, that include the localization industry, software development, gaming, graphic design and freelance content writing.

The need for applying social distancing policies extended remote working to other sectors of the productive sphere, proving it can be a reality for employees and employers. In fact, a recent paper from the University of Chicago estimates that one-third of the jobs in the United States can be done entirely at home.

Connected employees

Working from home impacts positively on the wellbeing of employees. They save time and money on commuting and, also, there is a boost in productivity (without the office distractions). Because of this, there is a higher rate of satisfaction in home office jobs, as research suggests.

However, some employees can find it difficult to adapt their jobs to the domestic environment. In these cases, they can initially benefit from a mixed model, partially on-premises and partially from home. This way, there is a gradual adaptation of working and domestic routines.

Managing online

Companies can take advantage of remote operations in many ways. First, in regard to Human Resources, the modality has an increased rate of employee retention. “It will make us more comfortable in providing more flexibility to employees, which, by the way, makes this a more attractive place for people to work,” explains Goldman Sachs’ CEO David Solomon. Moreover, for Paul Estes, Editor in Chief of Staffing.com, these engaging conditions translate into attracting the best and brightest professionals.

On the other hand, when operating remotely, companies save in rent, electricity and other billings related to having physical installations as offices. Nevertheless, if this unprecedented experience leaves certain companies willing to try remote operations (under a mixed or a hundred percent model), it’s important to plan before executing. “Sustainability needs a firm foundation: the right investment, good operational plumbing, smart HR systems, strong soft skills, and outstanding communication,” underscores Jon Younger for Forbes.

The strategic shift to a remote workplace must include a proper investment in technology and broadband services to guarantee the best performance. It’s also fundamental to set a new structure of communication and leadership, that has its differences compared to on-premises strategies. Furthermore, it’s important to monitor productivity to assess the effectiveness of the shift.

From localization to beyond

Language service professionals operate remotely more than any other industry, in a 68 percent rate. Terra Translations’ staff is included in this percentage, and the company has the experience and the proper infrastructure to do it efficiently.

Maybe, after the COVID-19 outbreak and with the required strategic planning, moving the office to home will emerge as a possibility for many other industries and companies. Both employers and employees of different fields will be able to experience the pros of this productive model; from sustainability to profitability, from saving time to an increased sense of personal welfare

Video Calls Best Practices: Before, During and After

Communication is one of the pillars upon which virtual teams build their strength.  Every day, an organization needs to set up strategic planning, feedback, collaboration and leadership. These aspects depend on establishing clear and effective networking among the members of a team.

Some companies may now be facing the need for operating remotely due to the public restrictions established globally to control the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). In this scenario, companies have to find different ways to hold meetings, share daily information, instructions, etc.

One of the most useful resources is video calls or video conferences, since they nearly recreate the face-to-face experience that at times online conversation lacks. But for those not used to them, video calls can be more exhausting than actual meetings because of the use of a headset, the digital sound and images, connectivity or domestic issues. However, when video calls are efficiently planned, these issues can be completely addressed and solved. Virtual meetings are a very rewarding and enriching communication experience that has no equal within remote operations.

Before: Prepare

Not every subject is appropriate for video calls. For instance, notices, news, heavy data reports can be displayed in written formats, which allows information to be easily accessible for further use. But to discuss collectively, to hear general reports of more than one department or to introduce new members of a team, a well-planned video call is the perfect ally of effective time management.

Keep in mind the following tips when preparing for a virtual meeting:

  • If you are the organizer, prepare an agenda and have a moderator who points out who speaks next.
  • If you will be speaking, prepare notes and practice what you have to say.
  • Everyone: Check if your camera, microphone and speakers are working BEFORE the meeting starts. Having to deal with technical issues can be very annoying for the attendees.

During: Leverage

During a video call, certain practices can also help participants take full advantage of the meeting. 

  • Mind your environment. A light, tidy context will help you give the right impression.
  • Take and type notes. This way, you will have a summary or a draft for further reports or briefs.
  • Be respectful of the other’s speaking turns. Thus, raise your hand if you need to intervene, and if it’s the right moment to do so.
  • Record the meeting. Having this resource available can have multiple uses.

After: Share

What happens in the video conference doesn’t stay in the video conference. The discussed matters, the conclusions, the valuable information shared should be taken into account for planning and defining new actions, changes or resolutions.

  • Share your notes or prepare reports. This way, there will be a record of the attendees and the topics discussed.
  • Share the meeting recording. If a member of a team couldn’t make it to the call, if you need to review your notes or analyze in detail something said, you will regret not having your conferences recorded. 

It’s part of a strategy

We might think that some organizational practices —like holding video calls, schedule online, being a leader from afar— are somehow spontaneous skills when operating remotely. But there is always a planned and more professional way of addressing them. Consciously preparing virtual meetings impacts productivity, time management and communication. Give it a try!

Homemade Offices: Terra’s Tips for a Successful Remote Workplace

The rapid international expansion of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) significantly impacted the everyday lives of individuals  across the globe. Many governments established a quarantine or public restrictions in order to control the spread and circulation of the virus. As a result, daily routines, industrial processes, productive activities and transit were affected globally.

In our current climate, many companies and public entities are carrying out their duties to contain the virus by switching to a home-office model (with the exception of critical activities, like the job of health care providers). A lot of employees and employers are new to this scenario. However, at Terra Translations we are experts in working-from-home, since we’ve operated daily under a 100 percent virtual basis for 20 years.

In an effort to collaborate with all those who are not used to working from home, we’ll offer some insight on best practices to consider. With an optimal organizational strategy, operating remotely won’t affect productivity nor efficient communication.

On the company’s end

To achieve successful development of the company operations, there are strategies that help the management team strengthen connectivity and communication among employees.

o   Use online tools

Every member of a team or company should be able to have quick access to the information needed to do their jobs remotely. Hence, online tools such as file sharing systems or work management platforms help organize the team’s tasks and access needed data anytime. Besides, some companies have their own management systems which administer daily operations, staff and information.

o   Communicate clearly and positively

Calls and video calls can replace meetings and maintain a successful corporate communication. But when addressing someone via instant messaging or email we must pay extra attention. As the other person is not listening to the tone of voice or seeing gestures, he or she can misunderstand the attitude of the message. Cultivating a polite and positive attitude in written messages keeps healthy work relationships.

o   Schedule but keep it flexible

The staff can benefit from fixed daily schedules to organize their work routine at home. But some employees —especially those who are taking care of kids and/or older adults— need flexibility to attend the needs of others at home. Promoting collaboration among coworkers will help support the tasks and provide breaks for those who need them most.

o   Share

Keep employees informed with institutional news, share reliable information and show that the company is there to support the staff. This will promote confidence and a sense of security. A safe, informed and calm environment will foster, also, a smooth daily workflow.

At home but at work

For employees not used to working from home, it can be challenging to adjust their routines. The first basic practice that impacts productivity and organization is the separation of the workplace. Ideally, there is a room in the house settled as a home office. This will contribute to keeping a distance between domestic and work-related issues. If this is not possible, to have an exclusive space, desk or table can be useful too.

Second, it’s important to establish a time schedule routine. Some remote workers prefer working under a flexible timetable, while others prefer fixed hours. Regardless, having an organized routine will help in setting limits to work time. That will impact on domestic and personal welfare.

Furthermore, there are other practices that improve remote work. For instance, keeping the workplace tidy and neat will increase the sense of comfort, along with using ergonomic chairs and furniture.

Also, self-care is a very important factor. For Terra’s CEO Marina Ilari, for example, “Getting dressed or combing your hair for work will make you feel better about yourself,” she suggests. As she sees it, although it’s a simple action, self-care supports self-esteem and, thus, staff’s wellbeing.

The challenges: health and family

As Terra’s team knows how to operate daily from home, every member has a tip to share. For example, for in-house editor Ivana Sabelli, we should never overlook the relationship between work and wellbeing. In that regard, she notes three aspects we must not forget: vision, focus, posture. “Scanning a far object for 30 seconds every 40 minutes is a way of taking care of your vision health,” she suggests. Also, there are techniques to apply even while editing. “Doing breathing exercises and stretching while working will improve relaxation and a sense of welfare,” she added.

On the other hand, one of the greatest challenges is to entertain children all day while working on a full-time schedule. Sometimes, kids demand attention, and to work in separate rooms is not possible. For those cases, our Senior Project Manager Cintia Sturla has some advice: “You can even get them involved in work, only for a few minutes. They can press a key or you can explain to them what you’re doing,” she suggests. When that doesn’t work, she admits she has worked wearing costumes (sometimes more than one at a time!) for her identical twins’ joy.

Operations Manager Manuela Lamas has also twins and double wit. For video calls, she always stays in a closed room, “But I hand some paper and colored pencils to my kids, so they can slip me love messages or drawings under the door,” she says. That way, children feel connected with their working parents while doing creative activities.

***

All these actions, strategies and considerations show that there is plenty to set in motion on everybody’s end. An interconnected, ready-to-go and healthy environment —both for remote managers and their teams— will secure a successful operation even in such unexpected times.

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. 

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

 

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

 

Screenshot
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).

Screenshot
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.

4 Stages and 8 Rules for Successful Post-editing

Post-edition is the task of improving a machine translation (MT) output. This service is part of a wider workflow that may involve the preparation of the input, the implementation of MT and the evaluation of the obtained text. It’s a complex process that involves technology know-how, artificial intelligence and linguistic knowledge1 in its various steps.

 

  1. Pre-editing

In order to obtain a better output after implementing the MT engine, post-editors will prepare the source text. This is because there are texts that are more suitable for MT than others. Pre-editing is the process of preparing the source text before MT to obtain a better MT raw output. The most common actions required in this step are the following: 

  • Manage terminology
  • Apply style guides
  • Shorten sentence length
  • Reduce long noun phrases
  1. Machine Translation

At this stage, the MT engine translates the source text. The device can be integrated in a CAT tool, it can be a client’s engine or Google Translate, among other options. Depending on the project’s scope or requirements, a sample may be machine-translated to check the output. According to the results — and if needed — the project’s team makes adjustments in the source text or the engine.

  1. Post-editing

Depending on the client’s requests and needs, the translated output can be delivered without post-editing at all (raw output), or with light post-editing or deep post-editing. Regardless of which process is applied, there are certain rules that determine the post-editing process. According to the Translation Automation User Society (TAUS), during the post-editing task, the post-editor should bear in mind these rules:

  1. Do not retranslate the text
  2. Decide changes quickly (“2-second rule”)
  3. Translate the whole text, unless some phrases are classified as untranslatable
  4. Correct incomprehensible sentences
  5. Delete inaccurate sentences if they are irrelevant and difficult to correct
  6. Focus on semantic and syntactic mistakes
  7. Don’t correct stylistic errors (their correction is subject to prior agreement)
  8. Don’t replace recurring terms with synonyms
  1. Feedback and Evaluation

When developing an MT engine, the post-editor not only corrects the text, but also provides feedback to the engineers. Usually, the evaluation is made using standardized forms. This is a very important step that helps improve the MT device. The MT team retrains the engine based on the feedback provided (changing configurations, uploading new bilingual samples, for instance). With this step, the engine is “trained” so the quality of the MT output improves gradually. 

The Zero Step

Like in any other localization project, there is a step that cannot be skipped. For a successful delivery, it’s important to have a prior agreement with clients about what they expect of the MT workflow. Specifically, what kind of post-editing process will be applied (none, light, or deep), style preferences, proper nouns treatment, date format and untranslatable phrases, among others, are details that need to be specified before the project starts. This kind of agreement is the foundation of any localization task.

1As we can see in the chart, the skills and the expertise of linguists play a key part in the MT’s workflow.

Behind the Scenes: The Producer, The Director… The Subtitler

A Spanish-speaking audience lives in a world surrounded by translated content— from books to user manuals, websites to advertisements. The localization process that made these materials available is not always visible. But when watching a subtitled movie or a TV show, we take notice of the translation’s textual process because the source text (the audio) and the translation (the subtitles) are simultaneously present before us.  

Therefore, the job of audiovisual translators has salient visibility. Translating movie or TV show dialogue is subject to the same constraints of other localization tasks (semantic challenges, large volumes or tight deadlines). It also has specific technical requirements that only audiovisual translators master professionally. 

Common technical requirements: line limit and reading-speed limit

Sometimes the text in subtitles is not a literal translation or may seem shorter than the dialogue. This is mostly on account of two important requirements that restrict the translation of audiovisual products. The first is the line limit, which sets how many characters each line must have for a subtitle event. The range typically varies from 32 to 42 characters per line, therefore, a long sentence or idea must be rephrased in a shorter version. In this case, the audiovisual translator can choose either a shorter but non-literal translation that catches the core meaning of the original or they may crop some words out.

The second constraint on subtitling text is the reading speed limit. Generally, for a positive viewing experience, the reading speed is around 17 characters per second (CPS) for adult programs and 13 CPS for children programs with a flexibility of around 30 percent give or take. This can change according to the genre of the TV show. For example, in unscripted shows like reality TV, a higher value can be admitted such as 20 CPS because they tend to have faster dialogues.

Audio wave or shot change preferences

Depending on the clients’ requirements, subtitles must be synchronized (or “timecoded”) to mirror the  exact length the dialogue lasts (so it’s timecoded to match the audio) or to fit in scenes. Therefore it’s preferable if subtitles begin to display when the scene starts and finish when there is a shot change. The sequence is more immersive and, hence, better for viewing experience. This practice is actually Netflix’s preference. 

These conditions may also restrict the task of translating. The linguist needs to catch the semantic and pragmatic meaning of the source text and also fit the subtitle according to the scene or the audio wave. 

Why hire professional audiovisual translators?

Considering these requirements (only a few of the specifications an audiovisual project may have), we can see that audiovisual translators master both creative and technical skills. In addition to the task of translating text, they have to be proficient in the software application they use to comply with all the requirements and deliver the highest quality in every project.

Some visual examples

32 characters per line as limit
42 characters per line as limit
Bad line break