Translation, interpretation, and subtitling are three distinct yet interconnected fields within the realm of language services. While they all involve the transfer of information from one language to another. And each profession has its own unique skill sets, challenges, and opportunities. There are some interchangeable language skills that can benefit anyone who goes into one or more of these professions. For example, preserving meaning across language barriers is important to all of these fields. It’s not enough to directly translate something word-for-word in any of these professions. The final result would lose a lot of meaning and end up needing to be redone by an expert. Anyone who has copied and pasted enough text into a translation engine has experienced the downside of direct translation. Every language has metaphors, idioms, and other nonliteral language phrases which cannot be directly translated into another language or they would lose their original meaning. Preserving meaning is just one of the many skills that build a foundation in language professions. But not all language skills are transferable between translation, interpretation, and subtitling because each of these fields have different challenges and audiences.
The Art of Translation
Translation is the process of converting written text from one language into another. It requires a deep understanding of both the source and target languages, as well as cultural nuances and context. Translators must accurately convey the meaning, tone, and style of the original text while ensuring it is culturally appropriate for the target audience. Translators do not only need to be bilingual at a native speaker level, they also need to be bicultural. Understanding the literary and cultural nuance in phrases is essential in preserving meaning and avoiding slapdash direct translation.
Translating in Different Mediums
There is a lot of room for specialization in this field including the type of information as well as the audience. Translators work in all forms of written text meant for multilingual or international audiences. This can range from long form content like novels or essay collections all the way to things like website copy. The medium of the content is important for translators to keep in mind. Having a translation glossary can help larger projects stay organized so that the translation of the same phrases stays consistent. This is especially important when translating words in a user interface (if the button text isn’t consistent, the user journey might be confusing) or in marketing information. If a brand has a series of mottos or phrases, translating those phrases should be a well-informed choice that stays the same through the final product.
What is Localization?
Keeping the final audience in mind is also important for translators. Translating for a local audience is called localization. Localization is useful for audiences that use a specific dialect of their language. Localizing a video game for US audiences is different from a UK audience, even if all of the files are technically in English. The same goes for languages that have multiple dialects. In a translation, there can be minor spelling differences that could just be distracting. Or the translation choices could be much larger and vary in important vocabulary or grammar.
Localization is important if there is a specific audience in mind who would appreciate seeing the language reflect their dialect, their cultural references, and familiar vocabulary. If the audience uses different words for things like facial tissues, common baked goods, or transportation it makes a big impact for content creators to use the words that the audience expects.
The Fast-Paced World of Interpretation
Interpretation involves the oral transfer of meaning between languages. Interpreters work in real-time, either simultaneously or consecutively, to facilitate communication between individuals or groups who speak different languages. They must possess excellent listening, comprehension, and speaking skills, as well as the ability to think quickly and accurately.
Who is Interpretation For?
Interpretation is important for people who are traveling or working in a multilingual sphere. Sign language interpretation is essential for people in deaf and hard of hearing communities, both for them to receive public information as well as to participate in discussions. Interpretation can be high stakes because it’s live. It is used commonly in diplomatic relations as well as for the safety and inclusion of people making their way in a space where people don’t speak their language.
Challenges of Interpretation
Interpreters are dealing with much smaller audiences than translators, usually speaking on behalf of just one person. Getting their tone, intention, and meaning across means not only having mastery of both working languages but also knowing the person that they are working for. Avoiding miscommunication, cultural slights, and other potential snafus is harder than it looks. Being sensitive to differences between languages can help interpreters tailor their live translation for the perspectives of everyone involved. After all, without interpretation the client is isolated, surrounded by language barriers, and unable to communicate. The interpreter’s client relies on their skills in real time, which is a great responsibility.
The Craft of Subtitling
Subtitling is the process of adding written captions to audiovisual content, allowing viewers to understand the dialogue in a different language. Subtitlers must condense and convey the meaning of the original dialogue in a limited space, while also considering timing and readability. They often face challenges such as word limitations, reading speed, and synchronization with the visuals.
Challenges of Subtitling
Subtitling is specific to video production, subtitles can refer to both same-language subtitles or translated subtitles. Creating translated subtitles comes with some of the same challenges that translation and interpretation have and a few other challenges on top of it all. Synchronizing the subtitles to the video for the enjoyment of the viewer is a delicate skill. Not only do the subtitles need to match the timing of the audio, it’s also important to know how to split the subtitles and keep the reading speed reasonable. Splitting up the subtitles unevenly will leave the audience reading slow, then fast, then slow again and could lead to people missing important parts during the fast portions.
How Can Amara Help Subtitlers?
Amara has a free subtitle editor that is easy for beginners to pick up while also supporting advanced features to save time for expert subtitlers. If you are interest in volunteer opportunities, check out our volunteer page or our recent Amplifying Voices initiative. If you are a language professional looking for new projects, our in-house translation team Amara On Demand. We also provide private workspaces for teams of subtitlers with supporting features like English autocaptions, customizable workflows, and team management controls in Amara Teams.
Language Experts Are Essential in the Global Marketplace
Language skills are highly valued in today’s globalized world. These skills are essential for effective communication across language barriers, whether in business, diplomacy, or entertainment. Whether someone commits to earning skills in translation, interpretation, or subtitling; their skills will be valuable in at least on medium of communication. Job opportunities in these fields range from freelance work to positions in translation agencies, international organizations, and media companies.
While translation, interpretation, and subtitling share the common goal of transferring meaning between languages, they differ in terms of audience, medium, skills, and challenges. Whether you have a passion for written texts, oral communication, or audiovisual content; there are exciting opportunities waiting for people with skills in translation, interpretation, and subtitling.