Language translations

To cater for viewers who are not fluent in the language of the programme, synchronised translations of the speech into another spoken language can be presented in one of three ways:

  • Interlingual subtitles, in which a translation is created
    In the target language and displayed as on-screen text within the programme.
    these can also include translations of textual items such as signs and newspaper
  • Dubbing, in which a new audio track is created by
    voice-over actors in the target language.
  • Lectoring, in which a spoken narration is created in the
    target language and played over the existing audio which is reduced in volume
    but can still be heard in the background.

Most of the guidelines in this section concern interlingual subtitles. Some of these also apply to subtitles for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, for example guidelines concerning reading speeds. These are repeated in a separate section on subtitles for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, together with other guidelines specific to that service. Guidelines for translations into sign language are covered in the section on sign language interpreting.

Good subtitling requires great skill in balancing different considerations. It is not simply a matter of translating the spoken dialogue accurately into the target language. The maximum rate at which words can be spoken far exceeds the rate that a written transcript can be read. It may therefore not be feasible to provide a full translation. But it is still necessary to give the equivalent meaning, so some careful editing may be required.

Live subtitling involves still more complication. A good introduction to live subtitling and the limitations of the technologies used is given by the bbc see hear programme - how subtitles are made. The programme discusses the problems that viewers often have with subtitles, particularly live subtitles. Problems such as delays, misspellings, missing information and not having enough time to both read the subtitles and watch the action on screen. The programme shows how live subtitles are created using the respeaking method and gives insights into why it is difficult to avoid all of these problems. It concerns the production of subtitles for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, but a lot of the issues are the same for live interlingual subtitling.

Sources of information used for the guidelines on language translations

As stated in the overall introduction to the guidelines, these recommendations are largely the result of a compilation and restructuring of information contained in existing resources. The key resources used for this section were:

These and other language translation resources are referenced in the bibliography.