Updated: Mar 10
Thanks to platforms like YouTube, anyone can share video content with the world. Yet in order to truly connect with an audience, you need to “speak” their language. That requires using at least one of two methods: subtitling or dubbing.
The Rise of Video Marketing
When it comes to marketing, video is more important than ever. YouTube is now the second largest search engine, with visitors watching over 5 billion videos per day. The platform boasts 1.9 billion active monthly users in more than 91 countries, making it one of the best ways to reach a global audience. And if you want to cross language barriers, subtitles are the more affordable way to do it.
Captions vs. Subtitles
Before we dive into subtitling videos, let’s quickly go over some terminology. Although captions and subtitles are often used interchangeably, the terms apply to two different contexts.
Captions are typically added to assist viewers who are hearing impaired. (Although many viewers now watch videos without the sound off.) They're written in the original language to help viewers follow the dialog. They often include additional information such as whether music is playing or if there are other sounds in the background.
Subtitles, on the other hand, translate the spoken word into another language. Say your original video is in English, but you want to reach a Spanish-speaking audience. You would adapt the content into written Spanish, which may require changing metaphors, idioms, and/or references to make it more relatable.
Ideally, your video will include options for captions and subtitles in the languages you're targeting. (If you’re publishing videos in the United States, you may be legally required to add captions for the hearing impaired.) This ensures your audience can enjoy the content regardless of sound or the ability to understand the original language.
How to Subtitle Your Videos
If you want to write and upload subtitles yourself, YouTube gives you a few options. (YouTube also autogenerates captions that you can edit.) This can be a great, affordable option if you or someone on your team is fluent in the target language.
I recommend this method for informal videos such as vlogs, since the subtitles won't be as polished. Just make sure you set aside enough time to review best practices, write quality captions, and get the hang of the platform.
Hire a Subtitling Company
Now, you may not have the time (or linguistic skills) to write your own subtitles. In that case, you’ll need to hire a subtitling company. But before you sign on the dotted line, ask them to walk you through their process and quality control measures. Here's how it typically works:
You send your video and the script (if you have one).
The subtitling company either proof reads the script (or transcribes one).
The company prepares an original language stem file for translation into the target language, which is created one subtitle at a time. (They should pay special attention to grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, linguistically based line division, and formatting while doing so.)
The company verifies the subtitles for overall aesthetics, perfects synchronization with the video, and readability.
The subtitles are timed to optimal reading-speed algorithms.
A linguistic professional reviews the subtitles to ensure the meaning and intent haven't been lost.
Audio-visual editors work frame-by-frame to add customized edging, anti-alaising, and drop shadows to avoid any white-on-white effect.
Editors check for line-breaks to ensure an article or preposition is never left hanging at the end of a line.
Trusting their work is essential, especially if you can’t read the target language. If someone on your team speaks it, ask them to review the video before you accepted the finished project.
I also recommend this method for professional videos (corporate, advertising, training videos, etc.), since you’ll want to put more emphasis on the accuracy and aesthetics of the subtitles. The same goes for captions in the original language.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Skip the Subtitles!
Regardless of the method you choose, subtitles (and captions) are an essential part of your viewers' experience. You don’t want your audience to miss out because they can’t understand the video!