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Subtitle quality
Thread poster: Jessie LN

Jessie LN
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
Mar 14, 2008

I am currently working as an English language assistant in a primary school in Spain. Sometimes I show the kids DVDs of films or cartoons in English with Spanish subtitles. I have noticed that some of the subtitles are not very accurate (eg. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, someone says "I think he's after something" (i.e. seeking something) and in the Spanish subtitle it says "Creo que está detrás de algo", which is completely wrong and makes me cringe everytime I see it. The fact that it's a huge film like Harry Potter makes it even worse!

I was just wondering if subtitles are normally subject to any sort of checking or "quality control" by another party? I would like to think that if I were creating English subtitles for a Spanish film, that they would be looked over by a native of Spanish with a high level of English, just to ensure quality. Does it happen?

This is an industry that I am aiming to get into in the future. Although it does seem very competitive, the standard of quality seems to fluctuate enormously. I don't want people to cringe reading my subtitles!

[Edited at 2008-03-14 10:29]

[Edited at 2008-03-14 10:35]


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:46
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Get Disney films for your kids Mar 14, 2008

No, this is not an advertisement, and I don't have any relationship whatsoever with Disney or any of their affiliates. Never worked for them.

The fact is that the entertainment video translation industry worldwide is heavily low-cost-driven. So, in most cases, even when a good translator is hired, they usually don't get paid enough to think twice.

Of course there are many exceptions everywhere, but they are the exceptions, not the rule. However Disney is known in the trade to consistently enforce translation quality throughout their distribution network.

I translate mostly corporate (i.e. institutional, training, technical) video for dubbing or subtitling, where the same high standards are required. So now and then I'm in contact with people who dub for Disney, and they have told me about all the quality assurance steps they have in place for this process. The results speak for themselves.


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 01:46
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
It depends Mar 14, 2008

I always thought films were dubbed in Spain!
Here in Scandinavia all foreign films are subtitled, except those aimed at very small children. But even then cinemas show also the original version with subtitels (here in Finland in Finnish and Swedish). People mostly loath dubbed movies.
Generally the quality of these subtitles are excellent. Commercial tv-channels though seem to try to cut costs and do not apply the same standards as the publik tv-channels of YLE. I seldomly watch any commercial channels.

The problem you mentions is very serious, as these subtitles stay with the movie for decades. The poor translator gets cursed at every screening.

Poorly understood dialogue without the written script must be very difficult to translate. I once made a test with translation students. I showed them the video of a German film from 1950, which never has been screened in Finland. They had to write down the dialogue of the first minute. It was a hopeless task.

So I do not wonder if things go very wrong if the process is conducted without the original dialogue written down in a file.
These productions are of course in a big hurry, when the new movie has to be shown as soon as possible. I would not dare to translate these subtitles.

Cheers
Heinrich


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:46
English to Portuguese
+ ...
A bit of the quality process Mar 14, 2008

Heinrich Pesch wrote:
So I do not wonder if things go very wrong if the process is conducted without the original dialogue written down in a file.


In most cases I get 'the film' to translate, and nothing else. Some years ago, the manager of a dubbing studio that often works for Disney told me that all their films come with the full, accurate, script in English, with explanations/comments/tips on all key and tricky words and expressions in seven other languages, so that the translator into any language will never miss a clue.


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:46
German to English
+ ...
further comment Mar 14, 2008

Almost all foreign films shown in the Netherlands (cinema or TV) are subtitled (as well as all foreign TV shows), and the qualilty of the subtitling is notoriously variable, particularly with idiomatic and culture-specific expressions. You can easily pick out a few mistakes in just about every show.

Depending on the age and aptitude of your students, you might take this as an opportunity to point out and discuss the difficulties of translation, using the mistranslations as examples. Anthing you can do to combat systematic misunderstanding of foreign languages is beneficial.


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OlafK
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:46
English to German
+ ...
Everything has to be cheap Mar 14, 2008

Quality doesn't matter. I gave up subtitle translation for feature films many years ago because of the downward pressure on rates (we worked from English subtitles, transcribed and cued by a native speaker, plus a spotting script, and all translations were proof-read).
Now subtitle translators work for a pittance and if you criticise them for it they'll tell you they translate 3 to 5 feature films a week and always deliver quality (yeah right) or where they live, €1000 a month is a lot of money...
Companies cutting corners where they can and delivering poor quality systematically undercut those that value quality and whenever a good translator walks away from a job because of poor pay there are 10 sweatshop workers waiting to take over.


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Jessie LN
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
interesting Mar 14, 2008

Heinrich Pesch wrote:
I always thought films were dubbed in Spain!

Oh they are! Most foreign cinematic releases are dubbed, which angers me. I could go on a tirade, but I'll spare you! I have been taking English language DVDs out of the local library for my students to watch. The DVDs usually include the option of viewing them dubbed or with subtitles in various languages.

And yes, I had considered time pressures, but it doesn't seem worth it to skimp on quality. Surely some sort of second party or external revision should be an integral part of the process? Of course this shouldn't mean that the original subtitler/translator should think they can get away with producing a lower quality of work! I suppose in the end it all boils down to companies wanting to save a bit of money...

The quality assurance that Disney employs sounds excellent. Imagine having notes and translations already on the script! That's astounding. I showed my students Lady and the Tramp and from what I could tell, there were no real errors in the translation.

Ken, I would love to discuss translation issues with my students! Unfortunately, they are young children and have a hard enough time understanding me when I'm talking about farm animals and colours!


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Jessie LN
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Also... Mar 14, 2008

... does anyone know how I could go about getting work checking the quality of subtitles?

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:46
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Who cares? Mar 14, 2008

miralaluna wrote:
And yes, I had considered time pressures, but it doesn't seem worth it to skimp on quality. Surely some sort of second party or external revision should be an integral part of the process? Of course this shouldn't mean that the original subtitler/translator should think they can get away with producing a lower quality of work! I suppose in the end it all boils down to companies wanting to save a bit of money...


The original producer is after the royalties. The local distributor gets a part of them, from which they pay dubbing/subtitling costs.

On the other end, the broadcasting networks get money from sponsors, who only care about their ads being shown during intermissions. The public either receives public TV or pay for a whole cable package, including local programs.

Sometimes the setting is slightly different, but, the link gets broken here:

If translation-disgruntled spectators turn off the TV, or switch to another channel, because they can't make heads or tails from the translation of what they are watching, it's too farfetched to think that that the sponsor will realize that less people are watching their ads, and therefore take the trouble to complain to the broadcasting station, which will accordingly complain to the distributor, which will eventually complain to the dubbing/subtitling studio, which will complain to the translator (at the end of the rope!), who will finally say that they are indeed getting a quality level compatible with the ridiculously low compensation offered.

This must be the longest phrase I ever wrote, but to spare everybody in this circuit from so much trouble, they all in cahoots leave the situation as it is.

There are indeed some good jobs done in this area, but whenever these parties need more money, they start squeezing at the end of the rope: the translator. Only if the film is a winner they can squeeze the sponsor.


Last night my wife and I were watching "Law and Order" on AXN through a Brazilian cable TV network. As I'm an EN translator and she's an ESL teacher, we only noticed that they had totally forgotten to put the subtitles on when the commercials (obviously) in Portuguese came up! I checked the decoder setup, it was all right; all other subtitled channels had subtitles. I wonder if the sponsors will do anything about it. Were it a film spoken in German, Russian, or whatever, we'd have switched out from that channel immediately.


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
Where to ask... Mar 14, 2008

miralaluna wrote:

... does anyone know how I could go about getting work checking the quality of subtitles?


The best place to ask questions about the audiovisual translation industry in Spain is in the Yahoo group TraG (short for Traducción de Guiones).

Regarding the other question of why the people in some countries prefer dubbing or prefer subtitles: This is largely a matter of cultural tradition and inertia. In Spain, for example, I'm pretty sure that subtitles were forbidden by law under the dictatorship from the mid 1940s to the 1970s. (It's easier to censor or completely rewrite dialog when you're dubbing.) Even today, Spaniards on the whole are not used to reading subtitles... a skill that is best developed at an early age. Dragging Spanish friends to a "cine VO" to watch a subtitled film is like pulling teeth.

The byproduct of this tradition is that Spain's dubbing studios do some excellent work.

[Edited at 2008-03-14 23:45]


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Jessie LN
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
thank you Mar 15, 2008

^ Thanks for that, I'll look up that group.

Yes, dubbing was put in place as a censorship measure in Spain and also to cater to those who were illiterate. I wrote my dissertation on the linguistic adaptation of foreign films of Spain. I could ramble on for quite a while about it!


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lebatek
Local time: 00:46
English to Albanian
just a question Mar 16, 2008

hi there, i was wondering if i could ask you what kind of a software you're using fo subtitling, IF YOU DON'T MIND.
i'm new to this site, i came across this while i was thumbing some other sites resembling to this one, but this very one seemed to me an intersesting one.
please forgive for taking your time.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 19:46
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Subtitling software Mar 16, 2008

lebatek wrote:
hi there, i was wondering if i could ask you what kind of a software you're using fo subtitling,


Lebatek,

You may learn A LOT about digital video searching at http://www.videohelp.com .

The translation/subtitle text generation is up to you. There are some logical "rules of the trade", of which you may find some here at Proz, I think in the Articles Knowledgebase. Bear in mind that they are not laws carved in stone. Always use your common sense, from the spectator's standpoint.

There are two separate operations involved in the process.

The first one is made up of two parts: generating text and spotting (i.e. marking the in & out times of each subtitle). Contrary to many outsiders' belief, this is not enough in most cases - the exception being on-the-fly subtitle rendering with specialized hardware used by cable TV networks simultaneously serving them in different languages.

The second one is actually "burning" the subtitles on the video. In digital video this can be done in two ways. One is actually burning the subs onto the images, like it's done for VHS tape, so the only way to watch withOUT subs is masking the lower part of the screen. The other way is to create overlay videos, one for each language, that a DVD player (desktop or computer) may turn on and off. Turning them on, a DVD may have up to 32 different subtitle sets (languages) to choose from.

I hope this gives you a jump start. Browse that site, and see what you find. Many tutorials available there.

Good luck!


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Sylvano
Local time: 00:46
English to French
Quality vs profit Mar 17, 2008

miralaluna wrote:
I was just wondering if subtitles are normally subject to any sort of checking or "quality control" by another party? I would like to think that if I were creating English subtitles for a Spanish film, that they would be looked over by a native of Spanish with a high level of English, just to ensure quality. Does it happen?


Well, of course subtitles must be checked and proofread by an exterior eye. I bet in the example you're giving, incredible as it may sound, one (or several) of the following happened :

1- the translator was inexperienced
2- the translator was not a translator
3- the translator was poorly paid
4- the translator was not a native speaker

5- the proofreading was not performed at all
6- the proofreading was not performed by a native speaker
7- the proofreading was performed quickly, without watching the film

Common points to all of the above ? Time and money, my friend.

[Edited at 2008-03-17 14:17]


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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:46
English to Hungarian
+ ...
I could have written that, word for word Mar 19, 2008

OlafK wrote:
Quality doesn't matter. I gave up subtitle translation for feature films many years ago because of the downward pressure on rates (we worked from English subtitles, transcribed and cued by a native speaker, plus a spotting script, and all translations were proof-read).
Now subtitle translators work for a pittance and if you criticise them for it they'll tell you they translate 3 to 5 feature films a week and always deliver quality (yeah right) or where they live, €1000 a month is a lot of money...
Companies cutting corners where they can and delivering poor quality systematically undercut those that value quality and whenever a good translator walks away from a job because of poor pay there are 10 sweatshop workers waiting to take over.


Commercially viable films, like the Harry Potter films are always subtitled into several languages at the same time, and one subtitling company handles the contract. That means, the script comes straight from the studio, and a native English speaker does the English subtitles for translation, and it is checked, corrected, and usually very good quality. All the translators work from that. Moreover, if any of the translators notice anything, they would tell the project manager immediately, and all the other translators would be notified about any change or discrepancy. That is NOT the problem.

The problem is the poor pay, and the tendency to give the translation to native speakers not living in English environment, therefore their understanding of the language is inadequate. Poorly paid means very often these translations are done by freshly qualified language graduates, glad to have some work, or similarly inexperienced people.

Even Disney seems to think, that it is enough to be good in the native language to produce good subtitles. That's why I came across for example in the "Beauty and the Beast" "flying buttresses" translated as butterflies, and I wasn't allowed to change them! (I was only translating some additional material, not editing.) The language of the translator was undoubtedly good, but his understanding of English left a lot to be desired.

I hate to think what is being produced nowadays, because I know how bad these translations can be. I used to spend ages to correct them, there were so many mistakes, and now as they say, the blinds are leading the ones who cannot see.

[Edited at 2008-03-19 19:11]

[Edited at 2008-03-19 19:13]


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