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The greatest stories ever filmed (mangled by outsourced subtitles)
Thread poster: Cristina Santos
Cristina Santos  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:41
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Mar 20, 2007

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/article1533920.ece
TimesOnline

The greatest stories ever filmed (mangled by outsourced subtitles)

Films are being lost in translation because subtitling is increasingly being done in countries such as India and Malaysia to cut costs.
British subtitlers say that the original dialogue in some films is being distorted so badly by bad translations that they do not make sense.
They cite examples such as My Super Ex-Girlfriend, starring Uma Thurman, whose line, “We have a zero-tolerance policy for [sexual harassment]” was translated for Taiwanese audiences as, “We hold the highest standards for sexual harassment”. In The Princess Diaries 2, which stars Ann Hathaway, a reference to Sir David Attenborough during a discussion on insects was subtitled for Chinese speakers as Sherlock Holmes.
Deborah Chan, who specialises in Chinese translations for films, said: “There are some ridiculous mistakes. The general public suffers and the film-makers suffer.”
Britain’s subtitlers, who are compiling a list of errors, say that their job is not straightforward translation, but involves editing and rephrasing dialogue succinctly and with flair. They say that the domestic industry is in crisis, claiming that film studios are putting pressure on them to accept lower rates of pay or leave the industry altogether.
It takes an average of three working days to translate and subtitle a 90-minute feature film. Although some subtitlers are paid less than the minimum wage, they are still being undercut by outsourcing. Subtitlers in Taiwan, for example, are paid a fraction of British rates.
Particularly frustrating for Britain’s subtitlers is that they are being asked to correct the mistakes of the people who have replaced them.
Kenn Nakata Steffensen, of London, subtitled the British film Sixty Six (from English to Danish) and Spirited Away, the Oscar-winning animated film (from Japanese to English). He said that quality was being sacrificed. In one film, translated from English to Danish, the line “Jim is a Vietnam vet” became “Jim is veterinarian from Vietnam”. In another film “flying into an asteroid field” became “flying into a steroid field” and in a television programme “she died in a freak rugby accident” was translated into “she died in a rugby match for people with deformities”.
He said: “Experienced subtitlers are being replaced by inexperienced and unqualified translators who produce poor work for incredibly low pay.”
The subtitlers in countries such as India and Malaysia, he said, often did not have the “linguistic and intercultural skills required to transmit audiovisual content to the audiences”.
Guillermo del Toro, director of the Oscar-winning Spanish-language film Pan’s Labyrinth, learnt the importance of good subtitles the hard way.
For his 2001 film The Devil’s Backbone he discovered that American audiences were struggling to make sense of the “awkward and cold” subtitles provided by a caption company. For Pan’s Labyrinth, he worked on the English subtitles himself.
Double takes
My Super Ex-Girlfriend starring Uma Thurman, above (Taiwanese version) “We have a zero tolerance policy on this kind of thing” became: “We have a standard for sexual harassment”
Seabiscuit (Spanish DVD) “It was a ball to shoot” (ie easy) became: “It was like filming a dance scene”
Confetti (Spanish version of theatrical release) “I’m the puff, you are the straight man” became: “I’m the puff, and you’re normal”
X-Men 3 (Taiwanese version) “I introduce our new ambassador to the UN, and the representative to the world for all US citizens” became: “I introduce the ambassador of UN, who raises his voice to represent US citizens”


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 12:41
English to French
+ ...
Nice to get a view of this perpetual problem from a different perspective Mar 20, 2007

Sadly, the same problem applies to manuals, catalogues, books, articles, advertising - the list goes on...

I laughed a sad laugh at the mention of experienced translators being asked to correct the mistakes of those who replaced them...

Time to wake up and smell the coffee!


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 19:41
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Very true Mar 20, 2007

It was refreshing to view the rebroadcasting of the first part of "Berlin Alexanderplatz" last Sunday on Finnish TV and notice, how carefully subtitling had been done 25 years ago compared to the subtitling of new movies, even if standards are still high on TV.
We see this practically here on Proz, where subtitling jobs are offered according to the lowest bid.
Cheers
Heinrich


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jmadsen  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:41
Danish subtitles Mar 20, 2007

By and large, I believe Danish subtitling is up to standards, but as a linguist you can't help being professionally annoyed from time to time when you see translation errors in the subtitles.

Although the errors are mostly irritating, they may also often be quite funny, and there is actually a Danish website listing some of the most funny examples: http://www.titlevision.dk/boeuf.htm
(in Danish only)

Revealing instances of unnervingly bad quality, the page is provided by one of the largest Danish subtitling companies, and they are not afraid of critizing others (which I think is great).

Just one good example from the site:
ENG "Jim is a Vietnam vet"
DAN "Jim er dyrlæge fra Vietnam"
Meaning "Jim is a veterinary from Vietnam"

Jørgen


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Richard Benham  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:41
German to English
+ ...
Some examples from my own experience.... Mar 20, 2007

I remember seeing the film "Sexy Sadie", with English subtitles. The first line was a killer. A male prisoner is being examined by a female prison doctor, who tells him he has brain cancer. Her tactful way of broaching the topic is "Sie werden sterben" ("You will die"), duly translated as "They will die". This is a possible translation of the line, but not in the context.

On MCM, the band Blondie was being interviewed about their latest album, and they were talking about how the songs were all interrelated. One said "Chris thinks it's one song with a lot of movements". This gets rendered as "Chris pense que cette chanson est très mouvementée". ("Chris thinks that this song is very animated.")

Then there are completely inexplicable gratuitous additions. For example, on the Canadian film "La Postière", as aired on SBS Television in Australia, a young boy's eyes are being examined. The doctor says "Ne bouge pas tes yeux !", correctly translated as "Don't move your eyes!" Fine, except the boy continues to move his eyes, and the doctor repeats the admonition, this time translated as "Just blink!" (On seeing this film a second time, I wondered whether perhaps the (caricaturally German) doctor's exclamation under his breath of "Mein Gott!" could have been taken for "Clignote !" If so, the subtitler must be the only person in the world not to know "Mein Gott!" is German for "My God!" and is too well-known to translate in a French-language movie.)

The SBS subtitling of this film is a rich source of howlers. A woman is having one of those foil treatments at the hairdresser's, and due to the hairdresser's mishandling of the new machinery, gets an electric shock. She complains that she came for a hairstyle, not "la chaise électrique". Why on earth spoil the joke (she was, afther all, in a chair with electrodes connected to her) by changing it to "torture"? Similarly, a character is killed, and a celebration is held, during which a toast is drunk to the dead man. Or is it? Somehow, "Au mort", becomes "To the dead", a perfectly good translation of "Aux morts", which sounds the same, but it's a funeral celebration for one man, not a war memorial service....

All these examples are old, because I have more or less given up on watching subtitled movies. If I understand the original, it is torture watching how the subtitlers stuff it up; if I don't, I have no faith that the subtitles have any accuracy.


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Pierre Bancov  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:41
Member (2008)
Japanese to French
+ ...
I have exactly the same problem, Richard Mar 26, 2007

I almost only watch dubs - either the original if I know the language, or the adapted one. I can't bear to read subtitles anymore, because I keep coming up with other translations of my own every few lines. This is particularly excruciating when the subtitle's quality is average-low...

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Mara Campbell
Argentina
Local time: 13:41
Spanish to English
+ ...
Many things are to blame Mar 26, 2007

I completely agree with all of you.
Some of my favorite subtitle mistakes include "Criminals at large" being translated as "Big-sized criminals" and "Go get into trouble, for crying out loud" as "screaming loudly will get you in trouble."

But as a subtitler with five years experience I can say that I have experienced the million different ways clients have of sending you the work.
Mostly, scripts are inexistent. You have to listen to the film, understand the dialogs whether they are spoken in dialect, with an accent or from actors with mouths full of food, for example, and this is without considering the audio quality which really suffers because movies have to be compressed to be able to be uploaded and downloaded from servers all over the world.
When you can absolutely not understand a word or phrase, you have no other resource but to invent some text that has to do with the scene. This is where most aberrations occur!
In other cases, companies might send over a subtitle list in the original language but NOT the actual film. This generally happens with very new blockbuster movies that have recently opened or will shortly open in theatres. In languages as Spanish (my pair is EnglishSpanish), pronouns have genders, so when translating phrases such as "They are very old," we need to know if "they" are female or male. There are similar situations with plurals, as well as vocatives (we have different vocatives for informal and formal treatment, which actually modify the verb conjugation, too: "Usted es" --> formal treatment; "Tú eres" --> informal treatment, both said "You are" in English.)
So these are some of the problems we face in the industry, as many of you must know.

Of course I am not justifying mistakes. I actually am the hardest critic and keep a notepad by my TV chair and write down every aberration I see (I am actually planning on putting them up in my website some day.) What I am saying is that sometimes subtitling is very highly criticized, but these kinds of things should be taken into consideration.

If the day comes (sarcastic laugh) that studios pay enough, provide with the basic materials (proper scripts, for example, although they are no guarantee, either, who has ever seen a "perfect" script?), and give us enough time to translate, subtitle and do the necessary research to accurately work on a film, then we will be able to produce flawless movies. But at the industry's rate, that will probably NEVER happen!

Just my two cents.
"Saludos" from Argentina!
Mara


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Sylvano
Local time: 18:41
English to French
And the translator is to blame Mar 26, 2007

Mara Campbell wrote:
In other cases, companies might send over a subtitle list in the original language but NOT the actual film.


Wow... Translating a movie without seeing nor hearing it ? Don't you consider it a bit of a problem, as far as deontology is concerned ? You point the dangers of working that way in your native language... Do you accept such work conditions yourself ?


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Mara Campbell
Argentina
Local time: 13:41
Spanish to English
+ ...
Occupational hazards Mar 26, 2007

Sylvano wrote:

Wow... Translating a movie without seeing nor hearing it ? Don't you consider it a bit of a problem, as far as deontology is concerned ? You point the dangers of working that way in your native language... Do you accept such work conditions yourself ?


I know, it is strange even to me. But the client knows what is the best I can do, and they supposedly contract my services as a pre-edition of the subtitles. They tell me somebody in the production studio proofreads them over the movie later. (On a curious note, I usually have to sign confidentiality ageements for these films saying I won't divulge the contents of the scritp, say, from page 100 till the end!)
Apparently they do this to avoid piracy that can occur when transmitting the video file up and down FTPs and servers.

I try to see it as a plain translation. I am given a text I have to translate as best as possible. Of course I also produce the longest footnotes ever with clarifications of every kind and type, and the file goes out all marked up in colors with doubts and ambiguities. I actually have never seen the final version of one of my works of this kind, so I really don't know if they pay any attention to all that...
I now remember I even once translated a film from the transcription of the Closed Captions, again, without seeing or listening to the movie!

We could call it an occupational hazard, I gues!!


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Sylvano
Local time: 18:41
English to French
Counterproductive... Mar 27, 2007

Mara Campbell wrote:
they supposedly contract my services as a pre-edition of the subtitles. They tell me somebody in the production studio proofreads them over the movie later.

Of course I also produce the longest footnotes ever with clarifications of every kind and type, and the file goes out all marked up in colors with doubts and ambiguities.


The most absurd is the cost of that way to work... I'm sure quality and moneywise, they'd get better results paying you a little better, taking a little more time and providing you with all the elements. They'd be happier with your subtitles and so would you !


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Sandra Petch
Local time: 18:41
French to English
+ ...
It's depressing to see such bad translations... Mar 27, 2007

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:

Sadly, the same problem applies to manuals, catalogues, books, articles, advertising - the list goes on...



Sadly indeed...

A while back I posted this in a thread about mistranslations:

In a subtitled version of George Cukor's Othello at the Cinémathèque in Paris, an actor leaving the stage to rapturous applause declines to take another bow. His comment of "Leave them hungry" ("Laissez-les sur leur faim") was translated as "J'ai faim" ("I'm hungry"!). Just one of many weird and wonderful translations I spotted during this film!

In another subtitled film (whose title I don't remember), a kid asked an ice-cream seller for a "99" which any British person (and maybe others but not the subtitler) knows is an ice-cream with two chocolate flakes stuck in it (delish!)... it was translated as "une glaçe à 99 pence"!


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