5 Common Video Subtitling Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

April 19, 2021
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With the rise in popularity of video content and shorter project timelines, it’s not surprising that subtitle mistakes are common.
When you’re translating your videos, even more mistakes can trip you up.
Over the years, we delivered thousands of translated videos to clients here at Rubric. As a result, we have seen many of the mistakes that people often make when adding translated subtitles to their videos.
A few common subtitling mistakes keep coming up again and again. But, with the right knowledge, you can reduce friction and improve the quality of your videos.

The impact of subtitle mistakes when working with translation

If you want a quality video, your subtitles need to be accurate.
Subtitling mistakes are often shared online as funny light relief, such as when the BBC wrote soccer player Adnan Januzaj’s name as “Janet jazz, jazz jam” in the subtitles.
While such errors might be laughed off as a simple oversight in a fast-paced news environment, a mistake like this could seriously harm your business’s image if it ended up in promotional material or other customer-facing content.
What’s more, accuracy is only one aspect of video subtitling.
When it comes to translation, some other common mistakes also affect the final quality of the video.

A better approach to subtitling videos

The root cause of many problems that people encounter with translated video is that they don’t understand the localization process.
Video creation is more complex than other types of translation due to all of the extra engineering work that it requires. It is also much more costly and time-consuming to make changes than it is with other types of translation.
Alicja Weikop, one of Rubric’s Lead Project Managers, has seen many of the thousands of videos that Rubric translated over the years and has learned some vital lessons when it comes to subtitling.
She explains why it’s important to start working with your translation provider as early as possible in the video creation process:
I think there are some questions that you have to ask at the very beginning of a video translation project, such as whether you need burned-in subtitles or translated SRT files. There are quite a lot of complications with subtitles. Discussing all of these, upfront and throughout the project, contributes to a better process and nicer looking videos.

5 common video subtitling mistakes and how to avoid them

Here are some common mistakes that people make when working with subtitles for a video translation project:

1. Sending the wrong file

A frequent mistake, which is easy to rectify, is that people often send the wrong file to their translation provider.
For example, they might send a huge video file at full quality when only a reduced-quality render of the video is required for translation. While it’s not a huge problem, the large file size can slow down the whole process, especially in the Quality Assurance (QA) stage when various reviewers need to download the file.
A contrasting example is if they send a low-quality file when there is on-screen text to be translated. In this case, the complete video project files are required.
More problematic is when people don’t send the video file at all.
Alicja explains:
It’s quite essential that we see the video beforehand. We can give an estimate without the file, but ideally, for an accurate quote, you need at least either a subtitle file or a transcript so you know how many words are to be translated. And you need to know if there is anything else to be considered, such as on-screen text.

2. Making changes to the final file

Once your video file goes to the translation provider, that should be the final version. However, people often continue to update and tweak the video after sending it to translation.
Any changes to the video, no matter how small, can affect the timings of the subtitles and how they appear on screen. As a result, you should avoid changing the video after it has been sent for translation unless absolutely necessary. Further changes to the video will usually increase the cost of the project.
If you do make any changes to the file after you have sent it for translation, make sure to notify your translation provider immediately.

3. Setting unrealistic timelines

Video creation projects are complex at all stages of the process, not just in the final translation stage. This often means that the time available for translation is significantly reduced when the other production stages take longer than expected.
Alicja says:
People often don’t have realistic timelines because they think it is just another translation that they can turnaround in 3 days. But, with video, there are all these additional steps, such as transcription, video engineering, and extra reviews.
These extra steps take time. You can help to overcome this problem by communicating with your provider as early in the project as possible.

4. Forgetting the formatting

Many people forget about subtitle formatting when they submit videos for translation. Some important choices need to be made upfront.
Our project managers will ask you questions like:
  • What is the quality of the video that you want?
  • Where is it going to be played?
  • What font formatting do you want for the subtitles?
  • And other questions that are relevant to your specific video.
As Alicja explains, your formatting choices can directly affect the readability of the subtitles:
If the video is very bright and white, for example, you don’t want white subtitles. You need to be able to read them. We also need to know if there is anything in the video that would prevent the subtitles from being legible, such as other on-screen text. We consider all of these types of things.

5. Omitting the QA step

With deadlines continually being pushed back, the Quality Assurance step is often left to the last minute in video translation projects. Some people are tempted to omit the stage completely so they can ship the video quicker, but this can be a mistake.
Alicja says:
We recommend that the video QA step is always included. Video engineers do not speak all the languages that we localize into and so the final video should always be checked by a native speaker to ensure no mistakes were introduced at this step.

How to improve your video translation process

Subtitle translation projects can appear simple at first, but there are various complexities that you need to take into account for your video project to be a success.
When you work closely with your translation provider and get in contact with them as soon as possible in your process, the process can be smooth and pain-free.
Other factors also contribute to a successful video translation project.
For more tips on how to improve your video localization process in other ways, download a copy of our eBook Video Localization Best Practices.

Best Practices for Video Localization

In this report, we share the lessons we’ve learned for creating high-quality videos that are easy to localize. Whether you work with audio, subtitles, graphics or tooling, learn how to translate video that resonates with a global audience.