Perhaps “Word Nerding through Netflix”

Read the background and objections here, then delve in to my POV.
Please note I’ve used quotation marks rather than italicizing words as words (in captions/subtitles) with the aim of making a more accessible document.

Spoiler alert: you aren’t going to learn a language with the “Language Learning with Netflix” browser extension. You may confirm what you know, learn the odd word, or see something spelled that you’d only heard before, but you aren’t going to learn a language.

Now, I’m a language nerd, so I’m not knocking different modes of language acquisition or people’s desire to expand their worldview or personal skills. But to get viewers’ hopes up by presenting this tool thus is like saying you’ll learn to be a chef by working as a cashier at McDonald’s. You’ll learn stuff, it may be fun—it may even be “cool” as the linked article says—but you won’t be able to converse in the original language of the show. Especially based on most of the subtitles.

There are indeed some very cool functionalities to this tool. You can choose to see the automatic voice recognition–software’s subtitle translation or the human translation or both. Most useful is the ability to set the automatic pause on each text box. Unfortunately, the two versions of subtitles are so poorly handled that there’s no way in Hades you could learn much language from them.

I experimented with a film and language I was familiar with: “Incendies” by director Denis Villeneuve (2010) in French—Québécois to be exact, which is no mean feat for a French-from-France-translator to tackle. (I know because I went to translation school and, being in Canada, we dealt with Québécois French as much as European French.) (And sidebar, it’s a difficult film to watch but excellent. I recommend it.) I chose to watch both the “machine” translations (as Netflix calls the autocraptions) and the “human” translations simultaneously. In the following examples, when all three languages are shown, the original French is on top, machine in the middle, and human on the bottom. The Arabic is not subtitled. And by the way, I could have selected a film in any of the languages I know and found similar issues; this is just an illustration.
Let’s look at some examples.

Longshot man and woman approaching their car in a city , captioned J'ai la crisse de paix/I have the crease of peace/I feel so fucking peaceful
“J’ai la crisse de paix” is not about “the crease of peace” or even, dictionary-wise, “the crisis of peace”: it’s swearing with “Christ” and colloquially would be used as in the human subtitled “I feel so fucking peaceful.” So, that part is good! If it were France, it would likely have been some form of “putain,” but it looks like the translator asked someone who was familiar with swearing as you’d find it in Quebec or perhaps Maritime Canada (because as we’ll see below, the rest of the translation is problematic). But how did a machine supposedly translate “la crisse” to “the crease” if they’re using a corpus dictionary? Autocraptions 0, #NoMoreCraptions 1.

Young man at side of woman in hospital stretcher captioned Souffle haletant/Breathless breath
“Haleter” means “to pant,” “gasp,” or “puff” in French, but for the moment, let’s look at the autocraption “(Breathless breath)” which a human has not chosen to correct. That’s somewhat of a grammatical nullification in English, never mind a contradiction in meaning. In this scene, the young man is upset, stressed. A good subtitle would have replaced the machine one with something like “(sighs with stress)” or “(anxiously sighs).” This subtitle is used many times in the film, unfortunately.

Doctor examining woman in hospital, adult children looking on, captioned Elle est absente en general/She is absent in general/She's usually confused
Here the doctor is taking a history of the woman and asking her children questions about her health and behaviour of late. The machine subtitle is typically autogenerated: it just translated the line literally. The subtitler is just wrong. “Absente” and “désorientée” or “confuse” wouldn’t be synonymous here. In fact, here’s an argument for giving captioners and subtitlers reasonable work timelines instead of ridiculous demands of urgency. Had the subtitler watched the film first, they would have known that the woman has PTSD, which is unknown to her children, so her son just finds her emotionally unavailable and is very hurt and angry about that. Therefore, the subtitle must be “She’s always absent”: the English audience would understand that it doesn’t mean just physically but more so emotionally; the always would be more colloquial than “usually,” and it would be understood as “[not literally] always” but “[pretty much] always.” So if someone went to a French class and used what they’d learned here and said to the teacher, “Je suis absente” to indicate they needed further help, they’d be laughed at. Not what you want when learning a language.

Young woman looking from desk skeptically at offscreen woman, captioned J'etais meme pas nee/I was not even born/You're kidding right? I wasn't born
Here the “You’re kidding right?” is a hangover from the previous shot/subtitle and shouldn’t even be included again. But the young woman is being asked about something from thirty-five years ago and predictably responds with the French line as shown. The machine version is literally correct but not idiomatically. The human translation is incomplete and misses the mark, thus leaving the viewer in the dark. “I wasn’t born” is not the same as a snarky “I wasn’t even born yet” or “I wasn’t even alive then.” So let’s imagine someone (for some reason) wanted to learn how to say “I wasn’t born” in French: they would use a totally incorrect/inappropriate construction, confusing their listener. Part of learning a language is about clarity, so that there is no miscommunication.

Woman looking distraught in the front of a bus, captioned Cris de fillette/Cree of little girl
The translation by machine apparently went for an aural equivalent here; a human should have changed this to “(cries of little girl).” Unfortunately, this one is doubly problematic in Canada: “Cree” is the name of the Algonquian language of the indigenous Cree people. Confusion could reign supreme here, especially in a film so much about culture and place. Furthermore, knowing it was a Canadian film, viewers might see the subtitle briefly, wonder at it, and then lose track after it has passed by but still be pondering the meaning: audience immersion down the toilet. It certainly would detract from the cultural aspect of learning French.

Longshot of open-doored car in the countryside, with a man pointing the way to a woman on the road, captioned Stridulations d'insectes/Stridulations of insects
This is a good example of the need to understand diction and register in audiovisual translation. “Stridulations” can mean “chirps,” “chirring,” or “shrill sounds.” It refers to the sound crickets and other insects make by rubbing their legs, wings, etc. together. In English, “stridulations” would only be used within a scientific context, perhaps even only an academic one. Here, it’s just about the countryside setting, and we would say “(insects chirring)”—if at all. There’s an argument that the caption is not even necessary as it doesn’t advance the plot: we can see it’s empty and remote. In any event, a language student who then said on a beautiful summer night in Provence, “Oh listen to the stridulations of insects!” would be looked at like they had three heads…or too big a head. Subtitling and captioning is not about dictionary and thesaurus use. The audiovisual translator has to understand meaning, context, and changes in the target language. For the record, I don’t believe the audio has insects: I think it’s birds and the wind.

Arab older man captioned C'est la Femme qui chante./It's the woman singing./She's the Woman who Sings. Number 72.
The machine definitely blew this one with its literal translation. This is a key thematic and character-relevant phrase and is even a chapter title in the film. The human was closer but the “Number 72” is repeated in the next subtitle. Also, there is no understanding of capitalization conventions: as an epithet and important theme, “the Woman Who Sings” needs a capital on “who” in headline style; here it’s a mixture of headline and sentence. Probably the subtitler is working under the misapprehension that “little words” don’t get capitalized, a rule from the dinosaur age. All caps on the phrase would forewarn a language learner that this is not everyday usage.

Arab older man, captioned Inspiration/Inspiration
Here, “Inspiration” (and elsewhere “(Grande respiration)” as “(Great breath)”) is a total craption. Inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit or a muse or a lightbulb above your head, but its Latin root about breathing cannot be applied here. Furthermore, it’s hardly a notable or significant inhalation (unlike an example below) and could have been omitted. I don’t understand how a professional translator or QC person could have stetted this machine error.

Vista with woman at wall and car in midground, chapter title La Femme Qui Chante, captioned Un homme parle en arabe sur un haut-parleur/A man speakes in Arabic on a speaker/THE WOMAN WHO SINGS

Vista with woman at wall and car in midground, chapter title La Femme Qui Chante, captioned Gazouillis d'oiseaux/Bird chirping/THE WOMAN WHO SINGS
The errors in these subtitles are obvious in that the chapter title denies access to the viewer of the other subtitles if using the human version. “La Femme Qui Chante” should have been made a forced narrative, and the correct translations of the audio should have been “(man speaking over PA system)” and “(birds chirping),” despite the latter being insignificant. Most importantly, during the top shot, the young woman is sobbing (plot pertinent!) and that absolutely should be captioned, with the PA part placed on the next shot where that audio continues. No one’s learning any language here.

Middleeastern-dressed nurse speaking over an ill Middleeastern woman's bed, captioned Mme Mika?/Ms. Maika?/Mrs Manka?
As far as I know, Arab culture doesn’t espouse women’s lib, so the machine “Ms.” is a cultural #SubtitleFail. Then, it seems the translator is used to British conventions because in North America we use a period after “Mrs.” and the surname is misspelled. In any case, these inconsistencies would be confusing to a language learner without the knowledge of these cultural points.

Middleeastern-dressed nurse speaking over an ill Middleeastern woman's bed, captioned Elle a recueilli les enfants./She collected the children./She safeguarded the babies
Here the nurse is interpreting from the patient’s Arabic. “Safeguarded” is the wrong diction for this scene: it’s too formal and, in terms of babies, is a bit archaic. For the newborns, who are essentially refugees, “took in” is an appropriate choice. A student using this would sound like they were talking about a report by a board of governors rather than caring for little ones.

Young woman facing young man, her face expressing horror, captioned Inspiration/Inspiration
No spoilers, but here is another misrepresentation of “(Inspiration).” This is a gut-wrenching gasp of horror at the first of two climaxes in the film…

Closeup of young man and woman, captioned  Je vous aime/I like You/I love you.

Closeup of young man and woman, captioned Vore mere, Nawal/Your mother, Nawal./Your mother.

Closeup of young man and woman, captioned  Reniflements/Sniffles/Nawal
The problems with these three subsequent subtitles are obvious. Again, they take the viewer out of the narrative, disrupting their immersion in the poignant dénouement of the story, and teaching nothing about language.

These are just a few examples to illustrate how the notion of teaching a language is far more complex than throwing up some setting options and calling it language learning.
Yes, it’s great if you know some, say, Polish and want to check what a character said, or if you need to pause the subtitles for better comprehension. But to suggest that language lessons are being made available by a streaming service that is known for its problematic subtitles and its craptions is misleading. It’s just another way Netflix holds a monopoly on the international offerings of video-on-demand but is putting the cart way before the horse. They need to get serious about native target-language speakers as subtitle and caption editors and fix the timed text before they start misinforming the public about foreign languages. For now, I’d recommend using some language-learning software or apps, or—much better—taking accredited classes in the language you want to learn. You can’t learn how to drive an eighteen-wheeler on the highway by trying out a Segway.

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Captions Need Show “Bibles”

Colour photo closeup of gilded Bible pages, with gold cover, snap closure and tasselled bookbark hanging in the foreground.

 

Captions and subtitles need "bibles" just like theatre pieces or movie productions. Like their literal iterations, these collections of information are guides for all the relevant players on how to present content so that it's clear, correct, and, most of all, consistent.

When I was a captioner, some shows had 'em and some didn't. Worst was when we had to consult fan wikis for character name spellings, backstory, etc. VODS, shows, and movies need bibles templated and used, if they're going to commit to full accessibility for all users.*

Depending on where the captioner or subtitler is, there are differences in how they would normally write as a layman and how they would do their work. A Canadian captioning a show from and about the States would defer to American dictionary spellings and definitions and standard writing style guides, plus the client's house style guide. But an American subtitling an import series from Scandinavia would be wise to not only adhere to the client's wishes and that country's standard guides but also recommend other applications based on show content and branding, audience composition and an eye to future distribution potential.

Show bibles vary from artform to artform. It may well develop to have set and costume notes and samples, helpful visual ephemera, guidelines on authorized style guides, character details, notes on directorial changes and edits (updated), and all of this should be backed up—at least twice. Hard copies might also be wise should the internetalypse happen midproduction.

Here's an example of what Netflix's much (self-)touted subtitling policies did not address or succeed at (or this wouldn't have happened).

Peaky Blinders, Season 4, Episode 5 (accessed December 2017). In one scene, Cockney Jewish character Alfie Solomons is saying Good boy but the caption says Goodbye. Perhaps the non-native captioner (or one without British background or dialectic familiarity) should not be the titler for dialogue if they can't understand the accent, let alone understand that Goodbye wouldn't even make sense in the context if that were the audio. It causes errors and (although apparently not here) extra costs in QC corrections.

Screenshot of Alfie Solomons and Luca Changretta characters in Peaky Blinders show. The erroneous caption for Alfie says, Goodbye, trot on. Down there is Bonnie Street.
Image: cropped screenshot accessed Netflix, Peaky Blinders, December 31, 2017.

If a show bible is not extant or available, a good editor will do some research and preferably some subsequent consultation. The latter should be done by the most qualified expert in their professional network: moms with English degrees don't count. Having established some form of NDA, the editor should present their problem and its context, their research, and a suggested edit to the consultant. Confirmation or correction should lead to a fix, and either way the edit should be flagged with a justified query or note to the managing editor. Time is tight on titling projects, but there's no excuse for guessing. I have a time limit on how long I'll do my own research before turning to an expert; if I can't get the ME a recommended edit, I'll pass on my recommendations for next steps.

This example also points out the pitfalls of having blinders on about vendors. Perhaps your regular multilingual translator in Europe is multitalented, but this show would have required a titler who had ties to or experience with people in London and Birmingham, for instance.

Another problem with this scene was when, in the same episode,

Alfie Solomons was captioned as speaking Italian when in fact he was speaking Yiddish...

Alfie Solomons in Peaky Blinders show is captioned as "[speaking Italian]"

 

...but the captioner didn't have enough linguistic background to tell the difference between guttural and romance language phonemes. (Note that although different, captions and subtitles are sometimes needed in the same product. Read more here.) The titler should have consulted someone (or perhaps shouldn't have been contracted in the first place). I have a whole discrete presentation I can give about foreign language subtitling inconsistencies within Netflix captions; see the Engagements tab to book similar lessons and discussions.

So a bible, shared with the captioner, would have been available to tell them that Alfie Solomons is a Jew from the East End, living in Birmingham, with the common interruptor of the area's "yeah" and that he has no known connections to the Italian language. These are two instances where Netflix would have been saved embarrassment from YGWYPF vendors. If they aren't embarrassed, simply in terms of access to content for the deaf they should be.

Bibles can be simple, and they don't have to be pretty. But they do need to be complete, proactive, shared and USED.

 

*Read here about who should be using captions and/or subtitles (and sometimes both); it's not just a "deaf problem."

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Subtitle First Aid, Part I

It happened again.

I was watching a foreign film with subtitles. They were very well done: the English was correct, the titles themselves were very readable, and the subtitling did not distract from the content—which is one of the key requirements of successful titling.

But, as I am wont to do, I stayed and read the credits. [Insert car-brakes-screeching sound effect.]

“Filmed on Loaction”

I wasn’t obsessively looking for errors. I wasn’t putting on my Holier Than Thou grammar hat. But this jumped out at me, all the way to the back row of the theatre.

Granted: errors in subtitling or end credits are not the end of the world. They don’t make it a horrible cinematic experience. And mistakes slip by. But doesn’t the visual text of the project you’ve slaved over for months or years warrant a professional once-over? Doesn’t it deserve to have all its elements treated with regard for correctness and excellence? Shouldn’t the film have a great shot at international marketability and good critical reception?

If you skip the proofreading of your film’s text, you may be sending a message to your audience that they’re not worth considering: it’s only the end credits, right?

If you skip the proofreading of the subtitles, you may be sending a message to foreign distributors that their audiences aren’t as important as your original-language audience was to you: it’s just a secondary market, so no big deal.

This is not about being too uptight, too nit-picky, too pedantic. You wouldn’t distribute your film with sloppy sound editing or jump cuts. You probably have someone (or plural, if you’re lucky) either exclusively handling or at least keeping an eye on prop and costume continuity. You want to create a beautiful, whole and masterly film. So you can’t afford to leave the most in-their-face part of the film half-addressed for your audience. If you do, you’re—perhaps only subconsciously—conveying an attitude that says that film can be dumbed down for the masses and that the bums-in-seats don’t care about writing and language or their experience with your art.

If your production budget is over $5000, you need to have an editor review the text or at least a proofreader look at it with fresh eyes. (Your mum/husband/BFF won’t do because there are things to consider that they aren’t trained to look for.) For as little as the price of a couple of first-release DVDs, you can have your post-production text in a workplace-training video reviewed (word count depending, of course). For the price you’d plunk down for a new cellphone, you can have your short documentary proofread.

All the social media shares of signs with bad spelling, grammar and punctuation are an indicator of the appetite people have for mocking errors. If you don’t want your work turned into a derisory meme that gets more coverage than the original piece, you need to consider this often-overlooked aspect of post-production.

Just as THX reminds us that “the audience is listening,” it would be wise to remember that it is reading, too.

 

 

This is the first of three pieces about why film subtitles need copy editing and proofreading by a professional editor and subtitler. The others will address inadequate translations and poor word choices in subtitles. Vanessa Wells is a member of Editors’ Association of Canada and SUBTLE: The Subtitlers’ Association.

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Subtitle First Aid, Part II

Very generally, subtitles are used in film and TV for translating foreign or indistinct speech and closed captions are for providing the hearing-impaired viewer with the audio information they are missing. As I said in the first article of this series, subtitling must not distract from the film experience, so titles or captions both require judicious choice of wording.

There are many variables involved in subtitling that aren’t evident when we watch a subtitled foreign film or closed-captioned TV show. As in many areas, projects are usually not adhering to their projected timeline, and titlers (like book proofreaders) are at the end of the process; read: rush job with no rush-job fees. Subtitling and captioning have many spatial and temporal requirements; some are based on government standards, others on average reading rates, on industry-wide conventions, and so on. Pop-ons and roll-ups use different production models. And cost is affected by companies using international roster or tender systems for finding the most cost-effective labour market they can. So it’s not always fair to complain about subtitle quality but, reasons or excuses aside, they do get noticed and it does matter.

The reason [Sadly go-karts] is lamentable is that there is a finesse to captioning and subtitling in knowing what needs to be written and when. Paul Aaron (above) is neither saying that he is sadly go-karting, nor is that a sound that must be replicated for the viewer: it’s a visual, and it’s self-evident.

Let’s look at some other problematic subtitles and captions.

I’m sure you can discern the utter uselessness of this one:

Or this one:

But what about this one?

It is sort of funny, and it does the trick. But “sissy” is a subjective description, and it’s likely a localized idiom that may not communicate to people of all ages or all cultures. An editor should have flagged this caption as problematic because it could put up a potential barrier between the medium and some viewers.

Here’s an easy one:

It’s obvious, it’s visual, and anger itself is not a missed sound.

And here’s one for the “intensity” sub-genre of bad captions:

You can’t steal intensely; you can only steal with intense emotions. Even then, this is not a word or sound to be communicated aurally.

Just as you can’t loudly imply cannibalism:

You could perhaps convey that there is a loud gnawing sound, but if it’s cannibalistic eating, that’s either known to the viewer or will be, but cannibalism is not inherently aural, nor is implication loud.

Here’s another inaccurate one that a caption editor would have re-written:

I saw this episode of Orange Is the New Black, and Piper is not urinating forcefully, as if she were straining with a kidney stone; she had been desperate to go for hours and was finally allowed to but only with a male guard present. A more accurate title would have said [Urgent stream of urine]. That’s a sound and that fills in the missing information more correctly. Her face conveys her disgust.

This isn’t the worst caption in the world:

But in best practices, it might have been better to write something like “Expresses indecision” (if that were the case; I don’t know the scene) because the “I don’t know” sound is a culturally differentiated mannerism.

There are others which can be trickier, however.

[Not as good as drugs]? I don’t recall this Breaking Bad scene. But the square brackets indicate Paul Aaron is not speaking those words; perhaps he is otherwise communicating that the food he is accepting is not as satisfying as a drug high. We don’t know what is not as good as drugs (we can only assume from the visual cue that it is food) and again it’s not a sound that needs captioning. If he were eating but really wanted drugs, a correct caption might be [Grunts resignedly].

My final example is not from a subtitle or caption but could easily be. A fellow editor told of a South African correspondent who was talking about a "toot" which, to her, meant a drink. My colleague commented that "toot" means something very different to us in North America (and she didn’t mean a cute car-horn sound). This demonstrates the need to have an editor review the text for idioms appropriate for the intended market. Sometimes idioms must be retained to convey cultural richness and idiosyncrasies in the story, but it is important to have someone who is aware of potential stumbling blocks (and riotous audience laughter) and who is capable of supplying synonyms that will still work with the film. The Harry Potter books were Americanized for this continent’s market (and some would argue unnecessarily), but there are times when professional copy editing of the subtitles can prevent gaffes, offence or derision and—ultimately—loss of post-distribution revenue.

Subtitlers and captioners have to work at unbelievable speeds and too often with insultingly low pay. It's not always their fault if the titles we see are poor or just plain wrong. But a subtitling editor can check the work with a lot less hassle than your production team would have going back down the pipeline to get the errors dealt with. Then, when your film is received with popular and critical acclaim, you can pop that bottle of bubbly and have a toot to celebrate!

 

 

This is the second of three pieces about why film subtitles need copy editing and proofreading by a professional editor and subtitler. The first addressed proofreading as a basic component to post-production and the final one will deal with inadequate translations. Vanessa Wells is a member of Editors' Association of Canada and SUBTLE: The Subtitlers' Association.

 

 

The balance of the photos used in this post were retrieved on July 7, 2016 from here.

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Subtitle First Aid, Part III

Four boys lead a smaller one by the ear down a dimly lit institutional hallway; a still from the movie The Tribe.
                                                               http://www.vice.com

Parts I and II discussed the need for filmmakers to incorporate proofreading and copy editing respectively into their post-production plans. I also wrote about some of the technical difficulties titlers and captioners face, including time and space, which are connected to fonts and the languages themselves. For instance, French text is typically 20% longer than English, so if titling for an English-to-French film, you'd have to take all of these things into consideration to keep the titling up to speed with the English actors' speech.

In this final piece, I'll discuss issues of translation for subtitles, and you'll note complicating crossover problems. I picked a random foreign film to examine its subtitles' translation. (I'm not going to name the film because my aim is not to shame anyone making mistakes, for reasons outlined in Part II). I'll simply outline typical problems I found in it.

First some good points: the translator used slang such as "gonna" appropriately, based on character. They correctly ignored a lot of background chatter that was intended to establish setting elements and that was not integral to the plot or action. For the most part, idioms were correctly used. I bristled a little at the choice of US over UK/World English spelling but, looking at the secondary releases, I see that it had greater American than European distribution, so fair enough. (Although I still believe that World English is preferable because it prevents reader stumbling for more viewers worldwide.)

As in any copy editing job, there are stylistic choices decided on by the higher-ups which must be respected. Just as in editing an author's book, you can't hijack their style and have it your way, unless you can demonstrate your concerns about potential problems the reader may encounter and provide workable solutions. So this film used some editing choices in the subtitles that I found a bit clunky for continuity, such as capitalizing a new phrase following an ellipsis from another frame, when I would have used less distracting commas and lower-case letters, as it befitted the grammar. I found my eye jumping to the upper case and wondering if I'd lost the train of conversation from the last title. However, this is a grey area.

But my encounters with inconsistencies, treatments of numbers, expressions and, most egregiously, omitted titles were problematic.

Aside from the above regarding caps following ellipses, there were too many inconsistencies in punctuation treatment. Numerous clauses and sentences were incorrectly elided, either with too many or incorrectly placed commas, so that some sequences of subtitles should have been self-contained sentences and some should have been restricted to fewer clauses. Good writing in the script was misrepresented as long strings of spoken clauses.This sloppiness loses the reader, whose focus is returned to concentrating on the subtitles rather than absorbing their content subconsciously.

The treatment of numbers may seem like a picky topic, but it's not. Generally, editing conventions are to write out numbers between zero and nine or ten and to use numerals for 11 and above. Even if this had not been the stylistic choice, the jumping around was very distracting. I saw "2," "1st," "6-7 years" and, worst, "five minutes" and "15 minutes" and "30 minutes." In their contexts, those first three examples should have been written as "two," "first," and "six to seven years." Yes, the last three follow the above convention but a good editor knows when to break the rules to maintain reading flow. The scene involved counting off time being wasted by a character, so for better flow, I would have recommended using "5 minutes" to match the latter two time references.

Another translation and copy editing issue was around "n" and "N" plus a numeral: viewers were expected to know that "n55" and (inconsistently) "N55" meant number 55 or #55 as used in street addresses. This kind of error shows lack of consideration for the audience: it assumes a worldliness in all filmgoers, that they will know cultural references for all countries.

Here is another example of culturally differentiated mannerisms not being served by the subtitles. A character said she was going for—and made a going-to-sleep gesture, putting her head to the side on her joined hands under her ear. This is a gesture that is not culturally exclusive and probably is understood by most of the world as meaning "going to sleep." But in this case the subtitle was not left out and inserted "A nap!" (which is both incorrectly capped and punctuated); this is poor titling because she did not say "a nap" verbally, she only gesturally conveyed it.

One expression missed the mark. "It's a bit tradesman's entrance" should have been "It's a bit of a tradesman's entrance" or, because the point was to emphasize the slang and the distaste of the speaker, "It's a bit of a tradesman's entrance" (since italics would work better than single quotes inside double in titles). Not a horrendous problem, but I was stopped momentarily by it.

The choice to omit subtitles for some words was very unwise. One example was when a foreign word on a sign, key to a sub-plot, was left untranslated. It should be assumed that filmgoers are not all bilingual or multilingual and, even if they are, that the film's original language might not be one of theirs (and English itself might be a learned tongue). This type of error excludes some viewers and affects their experience with the film.

The other omission was frequent: completely non-existent subtitles for foreign words that were proper names for objects—and inconsistently! The post-production team and translator should have discussed and decided on the treatment of these names, applied the usage consistently and, again, not made assumptions about the viewers and what is general knowledge, especially when it applied to another language and a very particular niche of work. Equally annoying was when they allowed a spoken English word mid-phrase to have no subtitle, because it was assumed the English viewer knew what it meant. But when you have an actor saying it with an accent and when you drop a subtitle off, that creates reading and film-watching stumbles. Here is a fictional example of what I'm referring to:

Yes, it was on the

 

Was it? I didn't see that.

The words "BBC News" were omitted because they were spoken in English. But that is egregiously poor subtitling practice. The constant omissions were very distracting from the film experience, which is antithetical to subtitling and captioning.

It is rare to have perfect subtitles in a full-length feature, but the above examples illustrate some of the problems a subtitle editor can find by reviewing the text before distribution. The key is to allocate budget and time for this step in post-production. Film cannot engage foreign viewers if their absorption is interrupted, and being engrossed in a film is the audience's primary desire. Subtitling excellence is part of the value which filmmakers owe them.

 

This is the final of three pieces about why film subtitles need copy editing and proofreading by a professional editor and subtitler. The first addressed proofreading as a basic component to post-production and the second looked at editing poorly worded subtitles and captions. Vanessa Wells is a member of Editors' Association of Canada and SUBTLE: The Subtitlers' Association.

The photo above is from The Tribe, a movie which was made all the better for not using subtitles. Read my review of it in the second entry of this blog post.

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