When you’re a translator and you want to expand your portfolio as a subtitler, it can be difficult to get proper assignments if you don’t have much subtitling experience. When you start subtitling, you’ll also find out quickly that it is an expertise in itself, and that it requires additional skills.
Fortunately, there are plenty of people that are willing to teach you. You just need to find them. This article explains how.
There are several organizations that have sharing knowledge as their goal and that use videos as their main medium. The best-known organization like that is TED. Even if you’ve never been at a TED event, chances are that you’ve seen TED Talks on the TED website or on YouTube. You may have noticed the high-quality subtitles, in several dozen languages. All those subtitles are made by volunteers, and they’re always looking for new volunteers. The great thing is that there’s no experience requirement for volunteers and that the experienced reviewers are happy to explain to you where you can improve.
My personal favorite, however, is Amara’s Amplifying Voices of Change. Amplifying Voices has the same concept as TED; volunteers subtitling videos, and experienced reviewers pointing out any errors and helping you improve. What makes Amplifying Voices better for a beginning subtitler though, is the subtitling interface. It’s very intuitive, menu options are explained in the subtitling tool itself, and when your subtitles are too long, a pop-up clearly explains what the issue is, so you can fix it. In addition to that, the tool allows you to compare subtitle versions. So in addition to the reviewer’s notes, you can compare your version with the reviewer’s version of your subtitles, and see exactly what they changed. That gives you great insight into where you could improve.
Whether you choose TED or Amplifying Voices, to make sure that a reviewer gives you useful feedback, add a note to the first subtitle explaining that you don’t have much experience as a subtitler yet and that you would appreciate any feedback. That way, the reviewer will make an extra effort in explaining why they made certain choices when editing your subtitles.
Receiving help with any questions
If you’re an experienced translator, you may already know where you can find help online when you’re stuck. Of course, the Bureau Blog has a lot of information for you, but sometimes you may want to ask your fellow translators for help. A term for which no translation seems appropriate, slang that even Google doesn’t know the meaning of, or a phrase that you’re sure is a proverb, but you have no clue what its meaning may be. The same resources where you can find help with your translations are also suited for subtitling challenges. Two of these resources I find particularly helpful. Those are ProZ and TranslatorsCafé.
Both ProZ and TranslatorsCafé have a community that’s happy to help you out whenever you’re stuck on a term or phrase. You can make an account for free, and then ask your question to the community.
When you’re subtitling and ask for help with a term, explain in your post that you’re working on a subtitling assignment. That prevents others from giving lengthy suggestions that won’t ever fit in your subtitles.
Your next step?
When you’ve done several volunteer subtitling assignments and feel confident that you can deliver high-quality subtitles, you’re ready to offer your services as a paid subtitler. With your proven experience, you’ll be sure to get paid assignments quickly.
Mirjam Van Dijk
January 13, 2022