Optimize Your Audiovisual Translation with Technology

  • 25 February 2019
  • by Angela Starkmann
Optimize Your Audiovisual Translation with Technology

Angela Starkmann loves language, AV translation, and memoQ. Read why she thinks the use of a CAT tool supports your translation process even though different kinds of films will benefit from different features of translation tools.


I often joke about how many different types of projects I get to work on. Between numerous technical and economic documents, medical device manuals and business presentations, I also translated knitting patterns and recipes, a book on natural drugs, a pretty little volume on modern classical music, and a dog training handbook. I loved every single one of them and am a feared contestant in pub trivia quizzes because of the wide range of things I learned over the years. And I would always, always use translation technologies like memoQ, whatever the source material, as working with them is better than without.

As a subtitle translator, I'm no different. I've edited classic Hollywood feature films but much more often translated late night shows, home improvement programs, esoteric workshops on improving your life and preparing for the arrival of aliens, sports documentaries, and many, many Asian soap operas and animes. This diverse audiovisual content can be challenging but it is also wonderfully interesting to be able to deal with a countless variety of topics during one’s lifetime.

Translation technologies are nearly always useful for any type of project, including subtitles. Whatever your newest challenge may look like, the key to getting the best results for a project is to take a good look at the source material before beginning translation.

The text in subtitles doesn’t need to be sophisticated or complex in order to benefit from using translation tools. Think of the last subtitled program you watched—often film dialogue is simple (or simply banal). Let’s look at a few typical types of programs, and see how translation technology could facilitate the audiovisual translation:

The sitcom
30 to 45 minutes of fun and laughter. Often situational comedy. Recurring names, dialogues, and phrases, sometimes over the course of several seasons.
Challenge for the subtitle translator: Be funny and engaging. Consistency between episodes or seasons. Every-day dialogues can (and should) always be translated consistently.

The thriller
Complicated stuff the local audience needs to understand as well as possible. Law enforcement and military terms need to be translated correctly and consistently. Simple language and many repetitions in action scenes.
Challenge for the subtitle translator: Specialized terminology needs to be taken into consideration. Flashbacks of scenes from the past must be translated absolutely the same as when they first occurred.

The sports program
Uses particular sports terminology with no opportunity for a more detailed explanation. Often very fast, spontaneous speech. Lots of repetitions and repeated phrases.
Challenge for the subtitle translator: Very little available space. Truncation needed everywhere. Units of measurements need to be converted to local standard. Sometimes exotic proper names (athletes, cities, competitions) need to be localized appropriately and consistently.

The documentary
Wide array of topics. Often structured speech at moderate, even speeds. Few repetitions.
Challenge for the subtitle translator: Topics can be difficult and specialized. Neutral style. Machine translation is often a great help with unknown terms. Abbreviation and simplification of language structures may be the main challenge.

The romantic comedy
Often all about dialogues between the characters. Subtitles might show personal development, drive the plot, and help with understanding the individual characters over the course of time.
Challenge for the subtitle translator: Colloquial language (e.g., terms of endearment) needs to be reflected in the translation. Playfulness and humor are important in representing the special tone and charm of the show.

The toughest nut
Reality shows with messy speech and colloquial language. Many exclamations, maybe swearing or slang. Idiomatic, informal conversations and sometimes special subjects.
Challenge for the subtitle translator: Shortening (truncating) the translation. Characters speak very quickly. Finding suitable translations for flashy or funny phrases. Linguistic ambiguity is a great challenge for machine translation, but translation memory helps maintain consistency.

These are just a few examples from an extensive range of media offerings that might need to have subtitles translated. These projects present us with linguistic challenges to be solved with our professional skills: Our sense of language, humor, a vast general knowledge and great curiosity, without which this work would be impossible. Our contributions as creative human translators with linguistic finesse will always be important.

Translation technologies such as memoQ and DeepL can support our work, and we should definitely take advantage of their potential. Technology can help us be more productive, work faster and leave the boring bits to the computer. By using translation technology, we can work more consistently, type fewer keystrokes, and have options for automating everything that can be automated—so that we get a high-quality product as quickly as possible in this high-pressure market.

The use of translation technology is not standard within the subtitling industry. Now is the time to change that!

I hope that subtitle translators will familiarize themselves with memoQ, which has been the gold standard for translator productivity for many years. If you get a glimpse of what time-tested CAT functionalities like Concordance, Forbidden Terms, Pre-Translation and more can do for you, you will understand, how translation technology can make your life easier. Try it! 

I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comment box below!