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Elżbieta Pętlicka on the Evolving World of Subtitling

The 2016 conference of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) offered attendees a wide range of industry-specific presentations, including "Localization of Subtitling: Changing Needs, Changing Models, New Challenges" by Elżbieta Pętlicka, the head account manager in charge of Multimedia Services at Venga and a specialist in audiovisual translation.

With the current market transitioning from traditional mediums to more visual ones, there has been rapid growth in the use of video in a wide range of projects, and a corresponding increase in the need for subtitling. In an eloquent, well laid-out presentation, Pętlicka explored some of the factors that translators might want to consider when thinking about offering subtitling to their clients.

Subtitling tips

Pętlicka explained that the two main ways to localize videos are subtitling or narration (through either dubbing or voiceover). Subtitling, which is less expensive than voiceover and can also be delivered more quickly, is commonly used in corporate training and business marketing, and increasingly for educational and instructional uses such as in free online courses.

Pętlicka described the subtitling process as being more complicated than that of traditional translation due to the additional steps and initial training required. She emphasized the importance of keeping the client involved in the entire process as much as possible, as well as having clients sign off on each step of the project. These steps commonly include transcription, translation, video QA, post-processing, and delivery.

As many subtitling projects often begin with just a video, the source file must actually be created in the form of a transcript. A skilled transcriptionist is an invaluable asset of this process. Pętlicka said that a work involved in transcribing is "often underestimated," and she cautioned against doing it yourself for the sake of convenience (or saving money), advising instead that a professional transcription provider is well worth the investment.

Pętlicka then outlined some of the technical requirements of the various steps in the subtitling process, including open-source tools, commercial software, subtitling platforms, CAT tools, and AV equipment. She urged care when using open-source tools, however, because some could potentially be in violation of client NDAs.

Potential challenges

Pętlicka also shared some potential pitfalls to watch for in subtitling. She began by discussing voice-to-text ("an amazing idea, but it doesn't always work") and moved on to examples of the ways in which a poor transcription not only produces errors but perpetuates them. She also showed examples of problematic line breaks in order to illustrate the importance of layout.

Another point Pętlicka raised was that of subtitling costs, which run higher than those of traditional print translation. She said that this disparity can sometimes be difficult for clients to understand and suggested having someone with extensive experience in subtitling fully explain the process to them.

Pętlicka then addressed a key issue in subtitling: readability. Using examples of common errors, she discussed the importance of sizing and framing choices, as well as the need to consider both the target audience and the target medium (text that is legible on a laptop may be unreadable on a mobile phone).

Not just "one more thing"

In closing, Pętlicka left two parting tips for translators and translation companies just starting off in subtitling. The first was to begin with carefully planned smaller projects at first in order to solve any workflow problems before scaling up to larger jobs. And the second was an exhortation to take the craft of subtitling seriously, rather than thinking of it as just "one more thing" to offer.

"Do some research," said Pętlicka, "because that content is really vastly different from printed collaterals, and it needs some special attention."

The video of Elżbieta Pętlicka's complete GALA 2016 session "Localization of Subtitling: Changing Needs, Changing Models, New Challenges" is available on the GALA website. Access to the conference video is free for registered attendees of GALA 2016 and $60 for non-attendees.

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