Subtitles and captions are similar but distinct means of enhancing communication in visual media.
But which one’s which?
By better understanding the differences between subtitling and captioning, you can make the right choice as to which option will best serve your communication needs.
Different Contexts for Subtitles and Captions
Subtitling is used as a means of translating a medium into another language so that speakers of other languages can enjoy it.
Subtitled foreign films are an obvious example. Without subtitles, English-speaking audiences would be unable to follow the plot of a French or Spanish movie. Subtitles are best-suited and most often used for pre-recorded videos, such as movies, TV shows, and employee training videos.
Captioning, on the other hand, is more commonly used as a service to aid deaf and hard of hearing audiences. They are more adaptable to live broadcasts, such as news broadcasts, sporting events, and live television shows.
Usually, captions (also called closed captions) appear as white text within a black box, appearing a second or two after the spoken words.
Considerations to Make When Using Captions and Subtitles
Due to their different contexts and purposes, captions and subtitles are characterized by a few important differences.
Subtitles, as the name suggests, are usually placed at the bottom of the screen. Captions on the other hand, may be placed in different locations on the screen in order to make clear to the audience who is speaking. This is especially useful for deaf individuals who can’t rely on voice distinctions to pinpoint the speaker.
Subtitles and captions have some of the same hurdles to overcome, such as the vocabulary and reading skills of the program’s target audience.
For example, both the subtitles for a children’s movie and the captions for a children’s television program need to consider the viewer’s reading time. Since most children don’t read as quickly as adults, this may mean using age-appropriate synonyms and shorter words.
Cultural localization must also be factored in. The UK subtitles for a French film might use the words “lift” (“elevator”) or “lorry” (“truck”) — words which may need to be altered for American audiences.
Why Smart Businesses Invest in Captions and Subtitles
The primary goal of captions and subtitles is expanding audiences. By adding appropriate subtitles or captions to a company’s YouTube channel, for instance, audiences that would otherwise not be able to fully comprehend the videos, whether because of a linguistic barrier or hearing impairment, can then enjoy them. This means a larger audience — and better business.
For example, foreign language films that include subtitles in multiple languages have been able to break into global markets, and top foreign films sometimes achieve high honors in Hollywood. Without subtitles, such films would have had great difficulty gaining such vast popularity (and making so much money!).
By expanding the audience, subtitles and captions can boost business while opening up new cultural horizons to a greater number of people.
Are you considering using subtitles or captions? Trying to decide on the best fit? Or did you already know which is best for your work? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.
How Accredited Language Can Help
Whether you need subtitles or captions, Accredited Language can help. With more than 35 years of experience, we are the premier source of language support. Contact Accredited Language today to learn more about our services.
Call us at 1-800-322-0284 or simply fill out our free quote form.