How fun is subtitling, really?


by Coline Huet, Angela Schaefer,
Justine Bogey, Fanny Kivy , Anaïs Gebhart

We all love to binge-watch TV-shows, which more often than not contain subtitles. But is subtitling video content just as fun? As part of the first year of Multimedia Translation (T2M) MA program, we were given a small video in English, called Translight It Up, of around 3:30 minutes to subtitle in French. The content was basically the whole history of translation and interpretation summarized in a couple of minutes. As aspiring translators, we did not even know that much about the history of translation. When you hear “educative history explaining document”, whether in a written, audio or video file, it does not sound very entertaining, does it? (We’ll leave you with flashbacks of your own history classes, but don’t fall asleep yet). What a surprise when you realise, that in just 3 minutes, you have learned so much about the past of your future job (no pun intended), and it wasn’t even boring. With its modernity, simplicity, and its many references to pop culture, PEEMPIP achieved the challenge of making history fun. Who thought this could be possible?

So, you might be thinking, if subtitling is that fun, why can’t everyone do it?

Subtitling is not simply transposing text from one language to another. We had to face several instances with “untranslatable terms” or expressions that do not really have an equivalent in French. There is only one quality you need to solve this: creativity. Really, how would you translate “bookworm” into French, while respecting the maximum characters per line and per second? Yes, another thing we did not mention yet, the rules of subtitling and the ones we followed were only 15 maximum characters per second and 36 per line. So the most common translation for “bookworm” into French that is “rat de bibliothèque” (literally library rat) seems less of an option now and more of a fancy expression impossible to fit in the maximum CPS.  As we, future professional translators, like to create fancy words with basic meanings, we came up with “bibliomane”. This is also where the fun lies for freaks like us who like to make our lives complicated and use words that do not even exist. For us, condensing a 50 character sentence into a 25 character subtitle is super challenging and thus exciting!


And how many times does one have  to watch the video before creating satisfying publishable content?

Simple answer, tons. At least enough to (almost) know the whole thing by heart. We started thinking of the presenter in the video as our friend, although we’re sure he’s way out of our league. However, even if we watched it so many times, we still found every part interesting and worth to be listened to. It is only after having studied the video very closely, that you know the essence of what needs to be transmitted in the subtitles.


As said in the video itself, freelancers are “loners”. As loners, how did we manage to work on this as a group?

This project allowed us to develop a good group cohesion and cooperation, since everyone contributed and added their own bit to the translation, from the realisation of the subtitles to the proofreading. We all contributed on this and managed to come up with accurate and fun subtitles that have a little bit of each of us all in them. Together we shared our doubts and discussed the less convincing elements to find better solutions.

It was very rewarding to see a project that was at first only a task within our Master’s degree, becoming a real project to be published by real professionals. Knowing that our project would be seen by hundreds of people is what pushed us to give our best. We hope that you will enjoy these new words, and that you will have a jolly good time watching the video with subtitles on!


About the authors:

The Junior Agence T2M is a student association at the University of Bourgogne, France. They have worked with PEEMPIP on two subtitling projects: the ‘Translight it up‘ video last year, and this year Emily Wilson’s video message for the 5th Translation Meet-up focusing on “Translation, language, gender & feminism”.

Find out more about the Junior Agence T2M by clicking here or check their Twitter and Facebook accounts or their Blog.

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