Multilingual Subtitles and Captions Can Expand Your Video Views

Marketing and promotional videos are more popular than ever in this age of digital media. It used to be that only big-budget businesses could afford the cost of producing a slick marketing video touting all the advantages of their products or services.
Not anymore.closed caption image
Today, many organizations have their own in-house video production teams equipped with low-cost but high-quality cameras and editing software that almost anyone with a basic knowledge of computers can use. Even more appealing to cost-conscious marketing managers is the array of social media sites that feature videos produced inexpensively on mobile devices and shared easily across multiple user platforms. A study by Cisco estimates that by 2020, video will account for 75 percent of all mobile data traffic! (Our previous blog highlights more fully the impact and opportunities of video marketing.)
From a customer outreach standpoint, the only thing better than adding videos to your communications strategy is to have them accessible in other languages as well. There are millions of online customers around the world ready to receive your message. While a voiced-over or fully translated version of your video would be ideal, we realize it may not be possible given your budget constraints. But there are other less-costly options that are just as effective.
The use of subtitles or closed captioning are simple alternatives to a full-blown video translation. We regularly offer these services to help customers achieve their e-learning, interactive, audio and video needs. If you think this approach might work for you, here are some terms and processes you should first understand.
“Subtitles” help viewers understand what is being spoken when the words are not clearly audible, or when they may not understand the accent or language. Obviously, for a translation agency like ASIST, providing subtitles in alternate languages is the most common scenario.
“Caption” text identifies each speaker and displays all spoken dialogue —typically (but not necessarily) in the original language. In contrast to subtitles, captions provide more descriptive information that help deaf and hard of hearing viewers better understand what is happening on screen, such as who is speaking at any given time and related musical cues or sound effects (i.e., “sighs,” “wind howls” or “doorbell ringing”). “Closed” captions can be turned on or off on a viewer’s device, while “open” captioning is encoded as part of the actual video format and cannot be turned off.
Closed Captioning
“Closed” captioning is not automatically displayed to all viewers, but only when a viewer elects for caption text to be decoded and displayed onscreen. On modern televisions, this is the white text within black rectangles that you might see when the sound is muted (or all the time, depending on your menu settings).
In NTSC video (the format used in North America, Japan and a few other countries) caption text is encoded into line 21 of the video signal—the “vertical blanking interval” part of the video image that doesn’t show on your TV. Captioning ordinarily is not visible unless enabled via your TV’s menus or remote control. Line-21 captioning is actually part of the video signal itself and is often incorporated into broadcast programs and even DVDs.
Closed captioning for NTSC video is limited to the Latin character set, so this method is not suitable for Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Korean, Hindi, Thai, etc.—not to mention right-to-left languages such as Arabic, Farsi and Hebrew. Indeed, even though the character set was expanded to better support diacritical marks in Spanish, French and Portuguese, these still may not display reliably on all viewing equipment.
PAL and SECAM video (used in Europe, much of Asia and South America) use a different method for subtitling, called “teletext.” If your source video in NTSC format must be converted to one of these formats for another country, the captioning would need to be recreated.
“Burned-in” Subtitles & Open Captioning
Another option is to incorporate the subtitle text directly into the video image, as a permanent part of the video signal that can’t be turned on/off. Often referred to as “open captioning,” this offers various advantages for translation purposes: First, virtually any character set can be used (although certain video editing programs may have difficulty with right-to-left languages or alternate character sets). Second, the viewer doesn’t have to do anything special or know how to use the remote control, because subtitles are always on. Third, if the video is going to be converted for playback from a website, the subtitles (otherwise lost in the conversion) already form part of the video image itself.
DVD Subtitles
DVDs support yet another subtitling method, where subtitle text is overlaid as a bitmap on the video signal by the DVD player, and can be turned on and off by the viewer. (Incidentally, video content on a DVD in NTSC format may also contain line-21 captioning.) DVD subtitles are stored in a special track. Many different character sets and multiple languages on a single DVD are supported.
For translation purposes, the best solution is often to present a language selection menu on the DVD when it is not certain that your viewers will know how to use the remote control to make language selections for subtitles. This is especially an issue when character sets other than Latin are involved.
Space Considerations
No matter which method you use, the positioning of subtitles can get tricky if your program already has a lot of text in the lower third of the video frame, or complex graphics whose legibility would be impaired when subtitles are sitting on top of them. When possible, try to plan ahead for this, leaving some neutral space across the bottom of the screen for subtitles.
If you want to avoid the inaccurate and possibly embarrassing mistranslations associated with automatic online translation software and you don’t have the budget for voice-overs or a full-fledged video translation, think about adding multilingual subtitles or captioning to your videos. It’s an effective and economical alternative that will get your message viewed by millions of additional customers.
Give us a call to see how we can assist.
For more than 30 years, ASIST Translation Services, Inc. has worked with business, government, educational and non-profit clients around the world. We improve foreign language communications through a full menu of translation and interpreting services, including content localization, studio voice recording & audio-visual production, transcreation, proofreading, website content, page layout & design, cultural training, and other specialized language support. To learn more about how we can assist you, visit our LinkedInTwitter or Facebook pages or our Website!