Film translation

Film translation Movie translation can be evidenced, for example, in movie theatres or while watching TV at home, and in both cases errors or omissions in subtitles catch the eye of many. It is obviously not acceptable if a subtitle has several misprints or translation errors, but in fact, the preparation of movie subtitles requires consideration of a number of details that make this type of translation complicated. The following provides an overview of some of the principles that apply to movie translation.

Translators of movies face several problems.

  • A seemingly casual conversation may involve industry specific terms or colloquialisms.
  • Subtitles are subject to certain limitations in terms of time and space. One must make sure that the text will fit in the screen space and that readers can read it. The text must be synchronised with both picture and sound.
  • In dubbing the texts must be roughly of the same duration as the original.
  • Before translation, all technical specifications should be agreed on: what format the client requires the text to be, which is the format of the original file, what will the format of the end result be, etc.
  • There could be cases, where one has to translate without a foreign language subtitle file and basically from tape. This could be quite a challenge as the sound quality may be not the best. In general, all translators prefer to work with a manuscript or a foreign language file, which reduces the likelihood of potential errors.
  • It may also happen that a translator has to translate the subtitles without seeing the movie. This may entail possible errors, because visually things are much easier to comprehend.

It may seem that translating movies is an easy task as many movies and series involve the use of everyday language. However, if we want to fathom what we see on television, there are quite a few hospital or police series that involve medical and forensic terms and movies that deal with environment protection, diplomacy and multiple other fields. Therefore the translator of movies must be prepared for any surprise that may occur in a movie.

Furthermore, movie translators must recognise any cultural cues and connotations that are particularly difficult to translate, as the amount of text fitted in the screen is limited. In the case of dubbing it may sometimes be easier, for example, to explain or even reword an expression, yet the same cannot be easily accomplished with subtitles.

Difficult decisions must be often made as to how and what to translate in order to stay within the fixed limit of characters. Each translator feels sorry for leaving aside a beautiful and depictive expression and replacing it with something laconic and ordinary because of restricted space.

Many movie translations are also available on the Internet but their quality cannot always be trusted. Although good translations of movies can sometimes be seen, usually the translations are full of semantic and spelling errors as they have been predominantly translated by amateurs and, as a rule, from tape only. There are probably few people who have not complained about the bad translation of DVDs, therefore utmost care is needed.

If you want to have a quality movie translation as quickly as possible, do not hesitate to approach us. We still ask you to remember that even though some footage may seem short, the text to be translated may be relatively long and we recommend you to have appropriate time for this. The approximate timeframe for a video translation is available from us and we will inform you of the projected cost.

How long does a movie translation take?

As the case is with any other translation, subtitles require time. The expenditure of the time resource here is determined by consideration of the following aspects:

  • The least time-consuming way of translation is when the client is satisfied with a text written in, for example, Microsoft Word, and in that case the translator will only have to do the translation and provide a clear and unambiguous wording.
  • Likewise, a lot depends upon the genre and text, the translation of everyday conversation takes less time than the one between two doctors in the operating theatre.
  • Time consumption will be increased if the translator has to address technical issues. For example, the determination of time codes of subtitles may take more time than the translation itself and the conversion of files will even entail a higher workload.
  • Translation will definitely be quicker with the availability of a subtitle file or manuscript and the text does not have to be translated from tape.

Limitations in translating subtitles

The two main limitations to be considered in translation of subtitles are those of time and space.

Limitation of space means that the client determines how many lines could be presented on the screen simultaneously. There are usually two lines but the number of characters may vary usually falling between 30–60. Thus the translator must fit the required text into a limited space and thereby some of the text may be omitted. Determination of screen space should also be the guidance for the arrangement of lines.

Limitation in time means that subtitles appear on the screen for a certain number of seconds. This largely depends on how long one character speaks intermittently. If the next character delays with the response, subtitles may stay on the screen for longer but in the case of a longer conversation, one phrase may appear on the screen for a couple of seconds only.

Timing of subtitles

One of the most time-consuming tasks in the translation of subtitles is the timing or setting of the time codes. If a translator already has a subtitle file with the original text with the time codes, this operation will not be necessary. However, there may be cases where such a file is not available and a manual operation is needed so that subtitles would be displayed on the screen simultaneously with the speech.

In the process of timing, one shall also consider the fact that for the translation of footage of the length of maybe twenty minutes, several hours may be required for the translation and double that time for arranging the time codes.


Dubbing is somewhat different from the translation of subtitles.

If in the case of subtitles the original text is maintained as part of the sound, then dubbing means that the translated text mutes the original text, and the latter is no longer available for the viewer.

Instead of limitation of space, dubbing requires the texts to be approximately of the same length or else a delay may occur or the translated text may be dubbed at the time the character no longer moves the mouth.

In certain aspects, dubbing is a better option, because the viewing of a movie does not require effort in reading and dubbing does not require any space restrictions. Dubbing gives the translators a little slight, because they can be more courageous with text changes while the viewer does not hear the original. This may be observed in the localisation of cartoons for the Estonian cultural context, by changing the names of characters and replacing cultural references so that they apply to local things and notions.

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