Seminar on subtitling best practices

Seminar on subtitling best practices

On 25 November 2016, the Translation Centre was delighted to receive a second visit from Patricia Kerres, deputy chairperson of the translation programme committee and lecturer in subtitling at the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL). She shared her passion for this area of translation with around forty participants, most of whom were translators, in a two-hour session.

​Patricia Kerres previously came to the Centre in April 2013 to talk about the discipline of subtitling. Following this presentation, the Centre considered that it would be a useful service to offer our customers, and in January 2015 ventured into the world of subtitling. The results speak for themselves, as over 2,750 minutes of video have been subtitled since then, using the subtitling software available for translators.

Before highlighting some subtitling best practices, Patricia Kerres emphasised that subtitling is an art. To be a good subtitler, translators need to demonstrate a great deal of creativity to render the content into the target language within the spatial and timing constraints, whilst still ensuring a comfortable reading speed for the target audience.

Good subtitling begins with good time-cueing (otherwise known as spotting). This process involves splitting the original version of the dialogue into subtitles.

If the time-cueing is done well, the subtitles appear right at the bottom of the screen and are either centred or justified to the left. When a subtitle takes up two lines, it should resemble a pyramid, meaning that the text on the first line is shorter than the text on the second line.

Once the time-cueing is done, translators may enter in the subtitles. An easy trap to fall into here is to translate all of the content. However, the target audience want to watch a film, not read a book. Translators therefore need to make sure they render the content of the dialogue, rather than the words, and must resist the temptation to produce long subtitles. A good subtitle should ideally be one line, at most two.

Translators should also be careful to keep semantic units together (for example, not to write ‘the’ on the first line and continue with ‘institutions’ on the following line) and to respect the particular rules of typography and punctuation pertaining to subtitling.

The Translation Centre had also invited some translators from the European Commission and the European Parliament to take part in the seminar, thereby strengthening interinstitutional cooperation in training.