How Translators Help You Understand Foreign Movies

We watch plenty of local or foreign movies, shows, and Internet videos that, by now, we have all become used to seeing subtitles as part of our daily entertainment. While some would turn them off for immersion, others would leave them on to understand a movie better. Where it truly shines, however, is when a foreign language comes to play: It lets you watch and understand the plot of a movie, regardless of language. You can thank a subtitle translator for letting you enjoy the show.

Translated subtitles are commonly found in anime, K-dramas, Netflix movies, and documentaries. We cannot afford to turn the subtitles off unless we learn the language. Watching a subtitled foreign movie not only entertains us but also lets us learn something new.

According to Katie Collom, an author from Language Trainers, there are three reasons why it is a good idea to watch foreign movies.

  1. It pushes you out of your comfort zone.

  2. It shows you a different view of the world.

  3. It awakens your imagination.

Take the movie “Yojimbo,” for example. It is a critically acclaimed film by Akira Kurosawa from 1961:

The movie is a Japanese cult classic and was the prototype for Sergio Leone’s movie “A Fistful of Dollars,” which starred Clint Eastwood. The only way to understand and appreciate it without knowledge of the Japanese language is to read and grasp the dialogue at a glance via translated subtitles.

The Unsung Heroes

Subtitle translators prioritize in giving you the accessibility you need to understand a movie dialogue clearly. Their work might be overshadowed by the actual movies they are in, but if it were not for them, we would not be talking about underrated foreign movies or the latest anime and K-drama shows we enjoy online to date.

How Subtitle Translators Work Their Magic

Will Brown from JBI Studios explains that applying subtitles to movies involves three key procedures, namely, time-stamping, time-coding, and spotting. (Article: Subtitle Translation 101: TimeStamping, Time-Coding, & Spotting.) Time-stamping is the process of adding timing markers to a transcription. They are added at regular intervals or when certain events happen in the audio or video file. These markers usually contain minutes, seconds, or even milliseconds of frames.



Event and interval-based time-stamping in action.

This is useful for finding content in the source footage. It is mainly used by an editor to aid them in navigating long audio and video files just to find what they need.

Next is time-coding. This is where the gathering of actual timing information happens. It is always frame accurate, meaning it has to be timed correctly (in milliseconds down to frames, if need be), and it follows a specific format. These are usually gathered for captioning and subtitling, and it is practically used in lip-sync dubbing, wherein it could also help sound engineers lay down markers quickly for audio loops.

Lastly, spotting is done to prepare the subtitles for use. This process is the collection and formatting of timecodes for video subtitles or closed captions. The timecode must be formatted correctly and saved in a file type (.srt, .sbv, and .sub) for captioning or subtitling.

The image above is in an SRT file format. It has timecodes that make the subtitles appear or disappear within a given time frame. Furthermore, a spotted file adheres to strict segmentation and breaks a transcript into smaller sections. Once this step is done, you can now watch a movie with subtitles on, thanks to the SRT file.

Any subtitler can do this, but a subtitle translator goes beyond these steps. They do not just translate what is said to a target language; they also have to make sure puns, jokes, sayings, and other complexities of everyday speech get translated and timed properly. It is more like localization rather than plain translation.

A New Perspective

Subtitle translators are always here to provide for your entertainment needs. They broaden our horizons by letting us see a different view of the world through clear and concise translation. Their work gives us a renewed appreciation of a film that we would otherwise have a hard time understanding. There is always something new to learn and experience, and it is thanks to these hardworking people.