Have you ever watched a film with subtitles which are lagging behind the action? There is an exchange of dialogue, and until the subtitles actually appear, you don’t know what is happening and you find yourself distracted and trying to keep up with who’s speaking.
There is much more to subtitling than simply translating the script and matching the dialogue with the translation.
Spotting (also referred to as timing or cueing) is the process of defining the in and out times of individual subtitles.
Expert subtitlers must consider many details to deliver an outstanding viewing experience.
Time coding subtitles are generally focused on certain parameters, which are: durations, reading speed, frame gaps and shot changes.
Subtitles have time limits. Subtitles can have a minimum duration of one second, or 5/6 of a second. The maximum duration can be six or seven seconds.
The reading speed is the viewer’s ability to read subtitles. It is usually expressed by means of two different parameters: characters per second (CPS) and words per minute (WPM).
The reading speed differs depending on the type of program, e.g.: adult or children, and generally the minimum reading speed is 16 characters per second and the maximum is 21 characters per second.
Where dialogue is continuous and there are no cuts, there should be a gap of 2-4 frames between subtitles, depending on the specifications of the client.
Eye-movement research shows that camera-cuts in the middle of a subtitle cause the viewer to return to the beginning of a partially read subtitle and to start re-reading. It can cause considerable confusion and should be avoided.
Shot changes normally reflect the beginning or the end of speech. In the case of continuous dialogue, subtitles should begin on the shot change and end 2 frames before the next shot change.
If dialogue occurs approximately 7 frames or less before/after the shot change, it should be timed on the shot change. If more than 7 frames, it should be timed at least 12 frames before/after the shot change.
There are always deviations in subtitling and the above are just key points to follow.
Reading subtitles engages the eyes, ears, mouth, and brain. Timing is everything.