How To Make Your Videos More Accessible with Subtitle Translation

Subtitle translation expands your video’s accessibility to a wider audience. Storytelling, marketing, education – all can reach more people with more impact through video.

Unless, of course, organizations release uncaptioned videos (aka, videos without subtitles). Then that valuable content is inaccessible to millions.

In fact, a study by the World Health Organization found that by 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide will have some form of hearing loss* and subtitles will be the only way to reach them with video content.

Subtitles & Accessibility (They May Be Required for Your Industry)

In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public entities and places of public accommodation to make all materials accessible to people with disabilities. Organizations funded by tax dollars are in violation of the law if their videos do not include subtitles or captions.

Adding subtitles to videos is just the beginning of making them accessible. Subtitles translation is crucial to making sure those people can access your video content.

For example, if you’re creating materials in English and Spanish, but your videos are only captioned in English, you’re cutting off hard-of-hearing Spanish speakers from the value of what you have to say.

Captioning benefits people outside the deaf community as well. Some learners better understand and recall information if they both read it and hear it. Captions allow people to watch videos in noisy places where it’s hard to hear and in quiet places where it’s inappropriate to turn on the sound. And if your videos are available online, attaching text like a caption file makes it indexable by search engines.

Types of Subtitles

Subtitles fall into two categories: open (or burn-in) captions and closed captions like SRT (used in most movies and television programs) or VTT (used by online applications like YouTube and Vimeo). Open captions are a part of the onscreen video. They cannot be turned on or off.

Closed captions are generated by a separate text file, and viewers can choose to watch the video with or without subtitles. For the most part, however, closed captions are considered more accessible than burned-in captions.

Burned-in captions have their champions, particularly for social media videos. When a person who is hard-of-hearing or just prefers to browse without sound comes across a video while scrolling their feed, burned-in captions allow them to see what it’s about without having to click on it.

Assistive tools like screen readers can’t recognize text when it is part of an image. That means people with visual disabilities will not be able to access the captions. Viewers also cannot change the size of burned-in text to make it more legible or turn off the captions if they find them distracting.

When targeting a multi-lingual audience, closed captions offer the ability to translate a single video into multiple languages. Save a copy of the video file, attach a caption file in the desired language, and you’re done. Since burned-in captions are part of the image, you would need to create a new video file for each translation.

Syncing Subtitle Translations

Oftentimes, subtitle translations aren’t enough. The next step is to sync your subtitle translation so the captions line up with the video.

Have you ever turned on automatic closed captioning of a live television program like the nightly news? You probably noticed that it took a lot of work to follow the show using only the captions. AI-generated captions are out of sync with the video, which is confusing when the image changes before the text has caught up. And even when the audio and text are in the same language, misunderstood words and phrases can completely change the meaning of what’s being said.

When a video is not being broadcast live, you can avoid an out-of-sync subtitle translation by creating a transcript and attaching it as a time-coded caption file. The transcript accounts for all the spoken words in their proper context, and time coding makes sure the captions appear on the screen at the appropriate time.

Subtitle translation aims to give multilingual audiences the same high-quality experience as audiences reading captions in the source language. You can prepare your video for translation by creating and time coding the transcript in advance.

Subtitle Localization

Just like AI has a difficult time turning spoken words into relevant captions in the same language, it can’t be relied upon for accurate translations. Even uploading a transcript into translation software won’t give you a high-quality translation. The meaning of words and phrases can change dramatically depending on the cultural context.

When looking for a subtitle translation service, look for a translation agency that offers localization.

A Korean speaker may not know what it means to “take a rain check,” for example. And literally translating a phrase like “it costs an arm and a leg” could horrify non-English speakers. This goes for video and other types of content. Avoiding phrases like this and keeping translation in mind when creating English content can be very helpful in your localization strategy.

When subtitling videos for foreign language speakers, this is often understood. Subtitled foreign films, for example, rarely put literal translations of what is being said on the screen. It’s more important that the subtitles convey the idea of what is being said and are timed to allow the audience to follow the action.

Subtitle translations for the hard-of-hearing should follow the same protocol. An experienced, quality-certified translation partner will not translate your transcript word-for-word into a caption file. They will instead localize it – using the words, phrases, and idioms that make it culturally relevant to the target audience.

A high-quality, localized translation means a hearing person who views the original video with no captions, a hard-of-hearing person who views the video captioned in the source language, and a non-English speaker who views the video with translated captions will all walk away with the same understanding of what was said. And that is the definition of accessibility.