Why can’t everyone just make perfect subtitles the first time that they try? Why should you learn how to review subtitles? Collaboration is an essential tool in quality assurance. There is a reason that the saying “two heads are better than one” has been translated into so many languages. It is because we are more powerful when we work together.

When you collaborate, it is not a statement that you couldn’t do a good job by yourself. It is an opportunity to do better together than you could do alone.

Read on to see how “two heads are better than one,” or how (in other languages):

  • Two heads think better than one (Portuguese)
  • Two opinions are better than one (French)
  • Four eyes see better than two (Italian, German)
  • More eyes see more (Hungarian)
  • Where there are two, the power increases (Romanian)

What is Quality Assurance?

Many industries have quality assurance teams, from medical manufacturing to software development. These teams double-check products and troubleshoot services to benefit the final users. For subtitling, your final user is the audience that views the video.

When you review subtitles, you are looking for mistakes to fix before the video is viewed by the final audience. Not all subtitles will be perfect, whether a human or a machine is creating them. But how do you identify the mistakes that you need to fix as a reviewer?

Audience-first Focus

The audience’s understanding has to be your top priority when reviewing subtitles. Subtitles should preserve the meaning of what is being said in the video. You should be able to watch the video on mute and still understand it. 

Character and line limits are also important. Subtitles become useless if they are not on the screen long enough for people to read them. If your subtitles have too many lines, they might block the entire screen! Read more in our blog post about subtitling guidelines.

Are Guidelines Necessary?

Won’t I be able to tell if my own subtitles are good? Why does someone else need to review my subtitles if I already did a good job? What if I have my own set of standards that don’t match anyone else’s?

Agreeing on a basic set of standards makes everyone’s job easier. Capturing spoken language into written language has many challenges: disfluencies like “um” and “ah,” translating idioms like “two heads are better than one,” and localizing measurements of time and distance are just a few. So following guidelines on simple things like character counts and line limits frees up space in your head to focus on the real challenges.

Reviewing Machine Captions

After you have some experience reviewing subtitles created by another person, you might take on the bigger challenge of reviewing captions created by a machine. 

More and more, content creators are relying on machine captioning features like auto-generated captions on YouTube videos. It’s often cheaper to use machine captioning than to hire human subtitlers. 

Human reviewers do make some mistakes: misspelling a brand name, splitting grammatical units, or having too many characters on a line. But subtitlers mostly understand what is being said in the video. This gives subtitlers a big advantage over machine captioning. 

Human subtitlers can make intuitive leaps that machine captioning cannot make. If a video has idioms, cultural references, or multiple regional dialects then a subtitler will have a better chance of understanding and capturing the meaning of what is being said. A slight accent or some background noise could result in machine captions that say “two eggs are batter than bun” or something else that could confuse audiences.

This is why reviewing machine captioning is more challenging than reviewing human-created subtitles. “Two heads are better than one” becomes more complicated when one of the heads is not human! As a reviewer, you are the last person between the subtitles and the final audience. And with machine captioning, you are dealing with more mistakes that a human subtitler usually doesn’t make. The corrections that you make will help avoid confusion and frustration for people who need subtitles to enjoy their content.

Using Amara to Review Subtitles

To get the most out of the subtitle editor that you are using, make sure you know its time-saving features. The Amara Subtitle Editor has built-in warnings for subtitle reading rates, character limits, and for blank subtitle cells. These warnings can get you started, and then you can focus on errors in spelling, timing, and style.

The Amara Editor has some nice synchronizing features to help you fix timing mistakes more easily. You can resynchronize the subtitles to match the video timing with Amara’s keyboard shortcuts. Or you can shift subtitles forward or backward if they are all off by a few seconds in the same direction. If the timing is completely off, you can clear all of the timing information and start fresh.

If you are reviewing translations, you will be able to see subtitles in the original video language in the bottom left corner of the Amara Editor. This gives you something else to reference in addition to the language in the video.

No matter which subtitle editor you use to review subtitles, we hope that our tips can help you feel prepared to help audiences enjoy subtitled video content! Now go out and find subtitling partners on Amara or elsewhere to get started. Review each other’s subtitles, give feedback, and grow in your subtitling expertise!

Happy subtitling!

About the author

Author profile

I am a Product Specialist and Recruiter for Amara. I am passionate about making online content accessible to global audiences!

4 thoughts on “Why Do We Review Subtitles?

    1. There are a lot of options for collaboration on Amara. Visit amara.org to join volunteer teams, apply to our professional subtitling team, or create your own subtitling team on our platform. I hope this helps guide you to the collaboration experience that you want!

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