How to become a better subtitler? Subtitle academy for each language

Should we talk about one of Viki’s important point? Quality of subtitles that “we” deliver. Every Cm and moderator ever, can wonder: will this subtitler have the capacities to create quality subtitles?

I don’t know if it’s because Christmas season is here that subtitler are becoming rare, still one thing is clear, French editor are going missing. Why is that? I know some people that do not want to edit anymore for one main reason: they spend hours and hours editing, an edition that takes longer than if it was subtitle by the editor.

There come the question of the subtitlers, without whom, no project would ever be completed, but who know less and less about the basics. Of course, we are volunteers, but that doesn’t mean we have to blindly accept to see a misspelling in every word of the sentence, a bad understanding… What is the point of watching a drama if 80% of it is considered bad quality subtitles? Nothing can ever be perfect, but how can we minimize this feeling of losing our time? And get our editors back?

This is where subbing academies come into play. We have seen the very good results of segmenting academies, without which, we’ll be lost. Then what about those subbing academies? Actually they do partially exist, it’s such a shame that they aren’t used.

Such academies should be helping us with grammar, conjugation, spelling, syntax…
I’m sure a lot of experience subtitlers, moderators and CMs, would be willing to help.

Couldn’t we all buck up those subtitles academies to let Viki stay as the quality website that we know and improve it?

I’m surely missing information, but let’s be open and start a civilised discussion :smiley:


Good subbers are important and needed here, but good moderators are just as important.
When I was an inexperienced moderator myself I just sent mails to my team asking them to ‘please write good subtitles’. But how can they know their subtitles are good (except for obviously wrong subtitles like spelling or grammar mistakes) if they don’t know what I had in mind? If I don’t tell them to translate these words like this and let these persons speak formally and those informally against each other etc. So, now I use a google doc to write down my ideas about how the drama should be translated and to keep all the repeating words and phrases as much the same as possible.

About subtitle academies, as far as I know the Dutch subbing academy is the only one currently active. I and another girl are the two senseis there who try our best to help the Dutch subbers to become better in what they do. However, since it’s just the two of us, the progress goes very slowly.
If anyone wants to start teaching others in the subbing academy and wonders how to do it, feel free to ask me about it. I will gladly explain our methods and try to help you.

For people who want to become better subbers, but have no access to a subbing academy yet, here are some tips that I think might be useful.

  1. Do read a lot. In your native language*. And no, not facebook posts or youtube comments. Read books, newspapers, weblogs. Anything that people have put their time and effort in.

  2. Watch video’s in which people speak your native language and put on English subs or subs in any language that you know fluently. Don’t just watch them, but also pay close attention to the subs. You will see that there is much more said than translated. Many people tend to translate every word which makes up for long sentences. Do the subs really need to be that long or will viewers also understand it if you summarise a little?

  3. Do the same as number 2 but verse-visa.

  4. Read your subs out loud. Then you’ll hear if it sounds awkward or natural and can change it if you wish.

  5. Don’t hesitate to ask your moderator if it’s not clear how he/she wants certain words/phrases to be translated.

  6. You can be critical. If the moderator changed your translation, but you thought it was fine, ask about it. If there was a good reason for it, he/she surely is able to explain it. Explain yourself as well if you think you have a good reason to not translate this certain scene/phrases in the way the moderator requested. They might say you’re right and leave your subs as they are.

  7. Always check your translations, but don’t check them immediately. You will notice no or very little mistakes. If you subbed in the morning, check them in the evening. If you subbed in the evening, check them the next day. You’ll notice much more mistakes. (And you will make mistakes. I myself still always find a lot of mistakes in my translations when I go back to check). It also gives you better ideas for subs that you think could be translated better.

  8. This website has about five books that you can read online in two languages. Choose the two you want to read in, like English + your native language and compare the differences. It will certainly help in making decision if you go subbing.

*I just assume everyone translates in their native langauge, but if you don’t you can also read ‘the language you translate in’

I hope this helps


Excellent suggestions.

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Great, great suggestions that fits in every language when one is doing subtitles.

I will get in touch with you soon. Your ease of detail with this information tells me that I will learn some new great things from you.

Thank you

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I actually discover easiest if the subtitle sounds awkward if I read it fast. Don’t know why. Maybe because if I can read it fast and understand it immediately, the sub is natural enough.

I think teaching others takes three things. Patience, patience and patience. Some people need to be told ten times the same thing before they get that it’s important and start paying attention in their work. And then others understand it immediately.


You’re right about the teaching. It takes patience. I’m actually trying to figure out how to teach, because I haven’t taught many students yet. It’s true that I must tell some people more than others to be careful and pay attention, so I need to teach each student differently. I guess it will get easier in time when I get more experience.

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I do mentoring very often in various ways.

Google sheet
I have a comprehensive Google sheet, with sections on most common mistakes. I won’t expand a lot on this, you French mods have the most wonderful Google sheets, so you already know all about it.

Written feedback
I send feedback, especially to new collaborators. While I edit, I copy paste the English, under that their translation, with an explanation of why it is not correct and how it can be made better. Sometimes I include dictionary entries or links where they can find further explanation.
This is VERY time consuming so I don’t do it every single time for every single person, as you may understand!!! It is a thing I do without asking if they want feedback or not. I do it so that they don’t keep making the same mistakes.
The reactions? 95% thank me saying that no other moderator has taken this trouble, they just edit and that’s it. Or say “thank you, I’ll keep those things in mind”. I’ve had people say that they don’t agree with one or more of the corrections, leading to an interesting discussion. And I’ve also had a small number of people who were very pissed off at my “arrogance” saying it’s an ego trip, so they quarrelled saying harsh words and since then we don’t talk to each other. One of them, a subber from English to Greek, told me: “How dare you correct me, who have been a French teacher for 30 years?” I still remember this and laugh. I’ve also taught Italian for 40 years, so does this mean I can sub in Arabic or Polish?

Live Skype sessions
I have found it very useful to correct their subs together through Skype. Without a camera, we don’t need to see each other, it is enough to have sound and to “share screen” so we can both see Subtitle Editor. I am there and I “share screen” with the subber. We read aloud, I explain what is wrong and why, let the person suggest a better way, I help her find it, and then I correct.
This has yielded the very best results and it’s much quicker than the written version. It also allows for interaction, it ensures they listen to everything (in reading, they might skip if it’s too long) and makes them think on their own, feeling they collaborate on the editing.

Correct on their own
In old videos nobody is looking at I have done a different kind of mentoring, inspired by the way of the Ninja Academy. Unfortunately there isn’t a separate line over the subs to put my commets on, so I put discreet markers on their subs, like asterisks. I make a list of the main topics where they did wrong, and tell them to look at those subs with the asterisks and see what is wrong, correcting them on their own according to what I told them. For istance, my comment could be:
a. You used a lot of English words. In the guidelines it is clearly said to only use Italian words, unless there isn’t any.
b. In dialogues, remember to use a space between the hyphen and the sentence.
c. Don’t use breaks unless it’s a dialogue, lyric or explanation note.
d. Don’t use capitals for job titles and family titles.
e. You translated a couple of English idioms word by word and they don’t make any sense. Find which ones they are, look them up here and find a better equivalent.
If they correct all this, a bit step can be made and we can proceed to correct the rest. Having them correct their own mistakes on their own instead of me doing all the editing, even for the boring formatting stuff is best for both of us. Next time they will remember not to do those things, and I will have less work. Win-win situation.