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Having Fun with Subtitling

We’ve all seen subtitles in movies, TV shows, commercials, and many other forms of visual media at one time or another—they’re prevalent if you think about it. Some are done by professionals while others are done by people who just enjoy doing subtitling. Now, I know what you’re going to say. Who would do subtitling for fun? Ah, but many people actually make subtitles as a hobby! These are known as fansubs, and I’m sure that anyone who’s watched even just a single episode of any anime pervading the Internet knows what they are. Surprisingly, the quality of these fansubs are, on the most part, rather good. So, are you feeling a bit curious as to how these subtitles are made?

Let’s first take a look at what you would need to begin subtitling. The most important thing in subtitling is that you’d have to be at least bilingual. No surprise there, right? However, just being bilingual isn’t always enough; you’ll need to have a better-than-average grasp of the elements of the two languages, such as expressions, slang, clichés, jargon, and many others, if you want your subtitles to shine. When you think about it, this isn’t just a requirement for subtitling but is also the prerequisite of a good translator or interpreter.

Assuming you have the above requirement covered, what’s next? Well, obviously, you’d need a piece of software that you’d use to actually make the subtitles. There are many free subtitling programs on the Internet, and any of those would work just fine, but one of the most widely used free subtitling software is Aegisub. Almost all of these programs work about the same—the video file is opened within the software, and you type in your subtitle text in a given textbox for the applicable time segment. The programs allow you to select the time segment in which you would want your subtitle text to appear. Some even allow you to add special formatting and effects to the text and even choose the screen location where you want your text to appear. You can also view your subtitles playing in real-time with the video and audio within the program. Now, that’s what I call fun!

As a tip, you should always consider the persons who’ll be watching and reading your subtitles. Give consideration to their reading speed. The average reading speed of your regular Joe is about 200 words per minute. That works out to approximately 3.3 words per second. From my experience, however, I’ve found that most people can read at a speed a bit higher than 3.3 words per second. So, what does this mean? Well, it means you shouldn’t overcrowd text in a given time segment—break up the text into multiple time segments if possible. Remember that if you have problems reading all the text in a segment, others would most likely have the same dilemma. So just have fun and play around. See what works and what doesn’t.

When you’re done making your subtitles, you can export them to a subtitle file format supported by the software. You can also hard-code the subtitles into the corresponding video stream by using another piece of software, but that goes a bit beyond the scope of this article. Share your subtitles with your friends or family, and see what they think. Better yet, share them with the whole world by a torrent. Who knows, something unexpected might happen.