Guest Post by Raquel Lucas de Sousa
When we think of audiovisual translation, inevitably the first thing that comes to mind is entertainment, and here we focus on translation for subtitling. Entertainment is of paramount importance in all of our lives. We cannot deny the merit of the presence of art and entertainment in our daily lives or in the audiovisual translation market. I say this at the onset to be clear that I have no intention in this article of belittling any niche in the audiovisual translation market. Quite the contrary, I would like to lay out a situation here about which there has been little or no discussion but which is urgently needed in the audiovisual translation industry: subtitling translation for industries other than entertainment.
As I write this article, in Porto, Portugal, there is an active subtitling campaign underway by colleagues, notably AVTE (Audiovisual Translators Europe) and SUBTLE (The Subtitlers’ Associaton – UK), for cinema producers to value subtitlers’ work. This initiative is so commendable that it ended up in The Guardian:
Nuno Oliveira, a Portuguese colleague, was also deservedly published on Público.PT. But my feeling is that this clamor is reductionistic.
At a time when there has never been so much audiovisual material produced, how can we not realize that the audiovisual translation market has vastly expanded and now contains many other types of audiovisual material that demand translations? Subtitling translation is not limited to just the entertainment industry, since the audiovisual production market is not limited to content produced solely for entertainment. Yes, simple and obvious, just like that. But we have not paid enough attention to this form of logic.
If most translators specializing in subtitling translation are working with entertainment – and I believe this is common knowledge in the translation medium – who is getting the material that is not for film, cable, or streaming that does not come from producers’ hands? Who is bringing in the corporate content that a company requests from their regular text translation provider? How should the translation company proceed when it receives a request for a file for an e-learning programming course for Android and IOS? How should a subtitling project for a medical specialization course be managed? In-house training for a multinational with a branch office in four countries? Videos for social networks of all types and subjects? An institutional video presentation of, say, results from a leading Australian multinational in the food industry, or even four hours of instructional video on how to calibrate 3D printers?
Obviously, for many translation agencies accustomed to working with text translation and interpretation, video and audiovisual material is a challenge at first. But right here, at this point in the process, lies the fine line between “figuring it out on your own” and “getting the right information.” A good number of these companies do not know the proper procedure for subtitling translation or even subtitling itself. When looking for information, everything seems very simple, does it not? After all, they already know how to translate. They think it’s just a matter of turning the text into captions and putting it in the video – something they assume anyone can find out how to do with no more than two clicks on Google. Done. All solved.
The project management in this model is simple: transcription of audio + translation in Word or Excel, then turn it into subtitles and review, and ready. You have the final product to deliver to the client. That is how a good portion of subtitling translation projects are produced outside of the entertainment market. As such, this niche market also does not appear to subtitling translators who just work in the entertainment market and do not typically translate texts or interpret. As a result, these subtitling translators do not deal with this type of material.
A translation company uses the professional with whom it already works for text translation and proofreading, the project manager or other another internal employee probably learn how to make the subtitling magic happen with free software found online and with a miraculous tutorial on YouTube, and everything’s solved. This is done, obviously, while also aiming for quality in translation, because you can’t forget about that.
However, when we talk about more refined subtitling work, as the audiovisual translation world requires, we must take into account more than just the technical issues and parameters considered as good practices (which vary internationally). This is already masterfully exposed by our exceedingly competent colleagues mentioned in their articles, and therefore, it is not necessary to repeat it here. Now, beyond these general issues, we have a new market (outside of entertainment) that brings with it new demands and requires new knowledge. Alas, the process of subtitling translation is very different from the scenario described above, one that I watched become a widespread practice in the market, which is trying to absorb this new demand as best as it can.
I stop to reflect for a few minutes and remember that I myself know no other colleagues who live exclusively from technical, institutional, and e-learning subtitling translation like I do. Throughout my career, as a freelancer and as a translation entrepreneur, I rarely worked with entertainment. This ended up showing me a whole different perspective on the audiovisual translation market and left me with many questions.
Specialization and subtitling
There are many excellent translators specializing in the most diverse areas of knowledge: medicine, chemistry, engineering, and so on. All of them are translating text and/or interpreting. Subtitlers are in the entertainment market. So, on one side we have the professionals with specialized subject knowledge and, on the other side, the subtitlers, more generalized, with mastery of subtitling technique. But there are neither specialized professionals in the market with both skill sets nor professionals who work with material more diverse than entertainment.
The audiovisual entertainment industry has a system that works from the top down. That is, the entertainment industry knows how to deal with this type of material and therefore asks for everything already “sewn up,” informs the supplier of the parameters with which to work, in what format they want to receive the files, and the like. This is not the case when dealing with translation agencies that are accustomed to working with texts, CAT tools, and translation memories, but which do not even know of the subtitling software available in the market. Direct clients know even less about it. Thus, this new demand comes from a market that does not know about good practices or the parameters for subtitling translation.
This new demand for technical, corporate, and e-learning videos allows the subtitling translator specialist to seize the reins in this situation. In this case, it is the specialist who has the know-how and the solution that the customer seeks and needs. With this also comes the whole responsibility of getting constantly updated about different video platforms, new technologies, diverse video formats, and understanding a bit of audiovisual pre-production and post-production processes. The translator should also be avidly curious about computer science and technology and be more than willing to specialize in some more technically advanced subjects or even to venture into more dense and frequent searches, because nothing is routine or monotonous in audiovisual translation projects. This niche market that is unfolding does not have the glamor of the entertainment industry, such as a TV series. However, it is a market in which doing a good job can have a better financial return. There is a gap to be filled in this multimillion-dollar market that is growing exponentially.
More than 500 million hours of YouTube video are watched per day. In 30 days, more videos are sent to the internet than in 30 years of US television production! In 2019, videos will account for 80% of internet traffic.
Video training offers greater engagement since watching retains 95% of the message versus 10% when just reading the same message. If allowed to choose, 72% of people prefer video over text.
From a translator’s point of view today, it is hard to believe that, in the face of all of this, translation agencies do not realize that mismanaging subtitling translation projects with translators who are not specialized in subtitling is much more costly in both time and financial resources than using those who are specialized. From a subtitler’s point of view, it seems reductionistic to me to defend the translation market for subtitling as if the entertainment market were the only one, not recognizing the many other possibilities that knock on the door.
The demand that this fast-paced world of technology brings us is still very new, and there is still no set standard, but someone will undoubtedly draw one up. Why not us? If we do not create our own area of expertise in this market, someone else is going to take it. I, myself, am in favor of defending a broad, diverse subtitling translation market, but we need to be better professionals for the market in order for the market to be better for us.
This article was originally written in Portuguese.
About the author
Raquel Lucas de Sousa holds a B.A. in Portuguese and Literature from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and started working as a professional English-to-Portuguese (BR) translator in 2009. Since then, she has translated various business documents for multinational companies and NGOs, as well as website content, journalistic pieces, and subtitling of various types of audiovisual materials. Raquel was part of the Linux Magazine translators’ team in Brazil and was the organizer of the ProZ.com IV Brazilian Translators Conference in 2012 and the Translator vs. Bureaucracy Lecture Series in 2015, both held in the city of Rio de Janeiro. She specializes in video subtitling, especially institutional and technical audiovisual materials, and is a linguistics project manager and managing partner of Verve, a translation company based in Porto (Portugal), with representation in Brazil. Raquel often teaches subtitling translation techniques to professional translators and is an audiovisual translation consultant for translation companies. She is a member and mentor of APTRAD and a member of Subtle (UK).