Video Subtitle Translation: Basic Procedure and Challenges

Subtitle Translation

Video Subtitle Translation: Basic Procedure and Challenges

As more and more Vietnamese people watch 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. Therefore, subtitles have exerted a strong influence on the audience and played a significant role in communicating foreign languages and cultures to the Vietnamese audience.

Within this post, GTE will walk you through some basic concepts of subtitle translation and then specific attributes for subtitling translation of Vietnamese.

Basic steps of subtitle translation

A full subtitle translation requires several steps: transcription, timing, translation, review, proofread/quality control, and encoding. While transcription, timing, and encoding focus more on technological aspects, three remaining steps relate to translating and creating contents. Subtitlers must work hard, fast, and patiently 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 most naturally. Paying attention to small details is a must to avoid spelling mistakes.


Normal procedures applied in translating subtitles

Literal translation – As the language in videos is spoken language used in daily life, literal translation seems to be prevailing.

Cultural equivalent – Measurement units and currencies shall be converted into local units. Imperial system units (e.g. feet, inch, pound) shall be transferred into Vietnamese metric system units (e.g. meter and kilogram).

Transference  Several words that are hardly translatable are kept the same in the translation. For example: “Alakazootiful!” (The Smurfs).


Difficulties in translating subtitles to Vietnamese

(1) Slang

Slangs may be the most difficult content to translate in a video subtitling translation project. Even a native speaker can not understand all the slangs in their language. Because of cultural differences, translators have to find an equivalent expression of the slangs in the target language instead of translating the literal meaning of it.

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 when it should be translated into Rất khỏe” (Very healthy, very well).

(2) Nickname

Nicknames are peculiar to cultural and behavioural 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.

(3) Swear and taboo words

These words are so popular both in life and in 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**” or “F*** is translated into “Chết tiệt”.

(4) Fictional terms

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 ageing 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.

(5) Character limit

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 the character limit.

(6) Pronouns

Pronouns in Vietnamese are various and flexible depending on speakers’ roles. For example: “I love you” in English means “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” (perhaps, 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 subtitle translation is an easy mission because it involves in many communication aspects, from words to behaviours in cultural contexts. GTE has a big team with years of experience in translating subtitles, understanding thoroughly cultures in the world, and masters the Vietnamese language.


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