Challenging Subtitle Translation into Vietnamese
As more and more Vietnamese people see films and television programs not only to relax but also to learn foreign languages and cultures, the translation of subtitles becomes a common business for many language service providers. It can be said that subtitles have exerted a strong influence on the audience and played a significant role in communicating foreign languages and cultures to Vietnamese audience.
Basic steps of subtitle translation
A complete subtitle in the target language requires several steps: transcription, timing, translation, review, proofread/quality control, and encoding. While transcription, timing, and encoding focus more on technological aspects, the three remaining steps are aimed at contents. Subbers are required to work hard, fast and patiently in order to meet very tight deadlines. Translators, reviewers, and proof-readers are not only good at foreign languages but also knowledgable about cultures and capable of using Vietnamese smoothly and flexibly to convert subtitles in the most natural way. Paying attention to small details is a must to avoid spelling mistakes.
Normal procedures applied in translating subtitles
As the language in videos are spoken language used in daily life so literal translation seems to be prevailing.
Measurement units and currencies shall be converted into local units. Imperial system units (feet, inch, pound) shall be transferred into metric system units (met, kilogram).
Several words that are hardly translatable are kept the same in the translation. For example: “Alakazootiful!” (The Smurfs)
Difficulties in translating subtitles
Slangs may be the most difficult content to translate in a video. Even a native speaker can not understand all slangs in their language. Because of cultural differences, translators have to try to find another expression for the similar concept instead of translating the literal meaning of a slang. For example, “Feeling blue” in English literally means “Cảm thấy màu xanh” but it should be translated into “Cảm thấy buồn” (Feeling sad) or “in the pink” in English literally means “Trong màu hồng” but it should be translated into “Rất khỏe” (Very healthy, very well).
Nicknames are peculiar to cultural and behavioral meanings so it is difficult to find a compact translated name with similar meanings. Nicknames can be seen the most in films of crimes or gangs, in which characters’ nicknames are created carefully to describe their habits, interests, hobbies, features, etc. For example, “sticky fingers” implies people of stealing or pilfering and luckily, Vietnamese has the term “hai ngón” with the same meaning and expression.
Swear and taboo words
These words are so popular both in life and films. The challenge to translators is to translate honestly to keep original ideas or use euphemisms to meet Vietnamese content control requirements, especially politics-related words. For example: “Sh*t” or “F*ck” is translated into “Chết tiệt”.
They are new specific terms and hard to translate. For example: “He timed himself out” = “He killed himself” (Anh ấy tự tử) (In Time). “In Time” is a sci-fi movie about a world where people stop aging when they are twenty-five and their “life clocks” start to count down. They work and earn time to live and to pay all living expenses. If they run out of time, they will die. The example is spoken by the main character of the film (Will). He talks about a man who deliberately gave all his time to Will and died. That is to say, “time himself out” is rendered functionally to “kill himself” (tự tử) and it is more precise than its original idiomatic meaning.
Speaking speed in English is much faster than that in Vietnamese. A word in Vietnamese is also much longer than one in English. These facts force translators to choose compact words with similar meaning to deliver the expression correctly and completely but still meet requirements on character limit.
Pronouns in Vietnamese are various and flexible depending on speakers’ roles. For example: “I love you” in English can be translated into “Wo ai ni” in Chinese Mandarin or “Te amo” in Spanish without considering anything about pronounces; but in Vietnamese, it may mean “Anh yêu em/Con yêu mẹ/Cháu yêu bà/etc” (perharps, there are hundreds of translation for this sentence). Therefore, translators have to watch the video and listen to the audio carefully to determine correct pronounces.
Translating subtitles – mission challenging
It can not be said that translating subtiles is an easy mission because it involves in many communication aspects, from words to behaviors in cultural contexts. GTE has a big team with years of experience in translating subtitles, understanding thoroughtly cultures in the world, and master the Vietnamese language. To allow us to offer the best localized subtitles, please contact us at
Phone:+84 987 728 933
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A STUDY OF TRANSLATION OF ENGLISH-VIETNAMESE SUBTITLES IN SELECTED ENGLISH FILMS FROM THE WEBSITE KST.NET.VN (Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, M.A.)