Category: Subtitling Written by: Daqeeq Date: 17 Mar 2021
Quality control in subtitling and why machines cannot be perfect
Anyone with an expert’s eye on translation can notice the varying levels of quality in subtitles, especially between serious documentaries and Hollywood movies. In the latter, some mistakes are a disgrace, due to the fact that companies that produce such low quality of subtitling hire inexperienced fresh graduates to cut labor costs. There is no institutionalized oversight and so, they keep delivering the same service with all the loopholes we observe.
Movie viewers may have no other choice, but if you are producing videos for commercial and outreach purposes, the challenge is real, simply because you will lose connection with the target audience if the subtitling’s quality is substandard. Subtitling, after all, is crucial to ensure to have a foothold in a digital world where videos have become on the top list of learning instruments and you are a click away from complete failure if you do not guarantee your audience a positive experience.
At the global level, quality assurance and quality control in translation are required under the European Standard for Translation Services. The topic has also been the subject of serious academic research, most noteworthy a study titled “Quality Control in the Subtitling Industry: An Exploratory Survey Study” (Robert, I. S. & Remael, A. (2016). Quality Control in the Subtitling Industry: An Exploratory Survey Study. Meta, 61 (3), 578–605. https://doi.org/10.7202/1039220ar).
Relying on surveys, the researchers identified a set of parameters for the quality of subtitling, as follows:
“1- Content and transfer (including accuracy, completeness, logic) – There must be a close correlation between film dialogue and subtitle content; source language and target language should be synchronized as far as possible.
2- Grammar, spelling and punctuation – The language should be grammatically correct since subtitles serve as a model for literacy. – Simple syntactic units should be used.
3- Readability (i.e. ease of comprehension and coherence between individual subtitles): – When it is necessary to condense dialogue, the text must be coherent.
4- Appropriateness (socio-cultural features of the audience) – Translation quality must be high with due consideration of all idiomatic and cultural nuances. – The language register must be appropriate and correspond to locution.”
Another aspect that should be examined while studying subtitling has to do with the fact that digitization has allowed machine translation. A group of scientists led by Thierry Etchegoyhen conducted a study, issued by the European Language Resources Association (ERA), in which they evaluated “Statistical Machine Translation for Professional Subtitling” (http://www.lrec-conf.org/proceedings/lrec2014/pdf/463_Paper.pdf).
The review consisted of two rounds and in the findings, the authors concluded that the results were “positive”, especially in terms of productivity. However, on the negative side, there was a need for human intervention, or a “cognitive effort” that highlights the need for integration between technology and human talent.