Subtitle all relevant audio content


The aim of subtitling is to give the information that a hearing person receives by listening. Not only is information provided through dialogue and narration, but many other sounds, or even a lack of sound, may also be vital to the understanding of content, context or plot. All of these must therefore be conveyed through subtitles.

Directions and techniques

Subtitle all speech (high priority)

All obvious speech should be subtitled. Even that which does not appear to have any important content. If a viewer knows that someone is speaking but does not know what they are saying, they will not know whether they are missing something important. This causes frustration and possible confusion.

Research from eye-tracking studies by Jensema has revealed that people look at the subtitles in response to the facial movements of the people on screen, so if a person speaks, it is assumed that a subtitle will appear.

Subtitle relevant sound effects (high priority)

Sound effects for action that is not visually obvious should be subtitled. For example, a doorbell, a distant gunshot or a ringing telephone. This includes incidental background noises such as lively chatter in a crowd scene, which often gives important context or atmosphere.

Describe music and songs (high priority)

Music contained in a programme should be subtitled if it is part of the scene or if it is important to convey context or atmosphere. This includes background or incidental music.

State the title if it is known and/or the type of music. For example, Thumping disco music. For songs, subtitle the lyrics if they are important or if someone can be seen singing or listening to them.

Identify periods of silence (high priority)

If there is a long period without any sounds that can be subtitled, indicate this with a subtitle such as (silence) or (long pause). Otherwise, the viewer may wonder whether the subtitling system has failed.

Report subtitle failures (high priority)

If the subtitling system fails, transmit an appropriately worded apology and explanation as early as possible, then regularly after that.