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  • Writer's pictureAlfonso De Luca

Subtitling Service Types and How to Translate for Netflix

Last time, we talked about TED as an opportunity to practice and subtitle guidelines. We know that there are a lot of unwritten rules in the translation industry as per guidelines and clients' needs. Today, we'll talk a bit about the subtitling market and Netflix guidelines - a standard to master. To become a professional subtitler - whether that's for YouTube videos, TED Talks, Netflix TV shows, video game trailers, etc. - knowing these things is mandatory.

Types of Subtitling Services

So, if you're going to work on subtitles of any form, you have to understand that there are actually different services that expand from merely 'subtitle videos'. For instance, you may find yourself translating videos that are already subtitled in the source language (you're basically just translating, but you also have the video as a context and subtitles ready to be filled).

Another case: you just have the source text in full, as a transcription, and you're required not only to translate but also to split the source text into subtitles - commonly called 'events' in the language industry. So, you synchronize each one of those events on the audio track. Then, you insert the appropriate translation to each subtitle source text. In most cases, it's like filling subtitle cells with translation, since many agencies that mainly work with subtitles have TMSs (translation management systems) in place to do the whole procedure, from time-coding (i.e., synchronizing subtitles) to translating subtitles themselves.

Yet another case is that you just have to do the synchronization. So, you're not translating, but just splitting the source transcription of the video into subtitles lines and putting start and end times to them as you create subtitles on the audio track, so that they're synced with the video. In this case, another linguist will take care of the subtitle translation task.

Task types aside, there are subtitling subcategories: open caption, closed caption, and SDH. I haven't had the chance to work with enough subtitling projects yet, thus I don't have a clear picture of what's different about each one of those. For now, just know that there are two core steps for pretty much everything in the subtitling industry - synchronization and translation.

What’s the Deal With Streaming Platforms?

Ok, you know the very basics of subtitling, but there's more to it if you're to work with industry leaders such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Videos, and the like. Today, more and more users prefer streaming platforms, and landing a job as a subtitler for the 'traditional film industry' is rarer than ever. That said, you should always keep your doors open, but remember: if you're to become a successful subtitler, you should consider streaming giants and their third-party vendors in various countries as a relevant source of jobs.

So, here's the thing: Netflix guidelines are nicely written, online on their portal, and for you to read and learn. And by learn, I mean learning by heart. The reason is simple: they're pretty much shared across the audiovisual industry, and most people (i.e., agencies) agree that Netflix has something that I would consider a 'standard' in terms of rules for subtitling. Even minor game localization agencies that occasionally work with videos reference them in their style guides.

Netflix Guidelines: The Bible of Subtitling

So, what you need to do is study the links below and always use them as a reference, whether you're subtitling for a job or, even more important, for a test. Just fail to follow one of those rules and your job might get negative feedback, or your test might fail. Attention to detail is key to every successful linguist.

I'll just sum up the most significant rules that you need to know so that you'll avoid the most common subtitling mistakes. But everything that's written in these links down below is to master. Better wrap your head around it.

  • Max two lines for each subtitle - Unless expressly required otherwise, use max two or even better just one line for each subtitle.

  • Max 42 characters (including spaces) per line per subtitle - Unless otherwise stated, 42 is the standard.

  • Max 17 characters (including spaces) per second - Again, usually the default rule. If you work on the client software while subtitling, you typically have a counter for this (CPS, characters per second) that automatically calculates the reading speed. Try not to go over the limits.

  • As a general rule, what you write must be impactful and immediate. Who's watching the video must not pause it to follow subtitles. Practice shortening concepts while translating.

And we also have language-specific style guides. I suggest you read the English one for everything that's not clear in your target language style guide. For example, if you subtitle from Spanish into Italian, learn the Italian style guide, but use the English one as a reference in case of doubts.

All Netflix style guides. Look here for your target language style guide and learn it by heart too:

That's enough for now. We'll get back with more details on time coding and other stuff in a future blog post. Most subtitling tests do not require you to synchronize, but just to translate, so make use of this precious information and look for work right away. Next time, we'll learn the basics of writing an effective resume to increase your chances of getting a reply from a client. You are to become a successful translator. Remember?



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