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Linguaholic

How accurate are English translation subtitles?


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I am sure many of us here have seen an international film, spoken in a different language and translated into English via subtitles.

A lot of martial arts films for example have English subtitles. Or, to name one of the latest, Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino, has translations from French, German and Italian into English.

I can't help but wonder sometimes how accurate the translations are when watching a movie. Sometimes the written translation "feels" a bit too short to have covered the whole dialogue.

For example, in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows", in one scene Sherlock and his team are running through a forest to escape from the German artillery.

A German soldier shouts out "zu viele Fuchse fur euch paar Huhner", which is translated in the movie subtitles as "time to introduce Little Hansel!". But what he was actually saying was "too many foxes for those few chickens".

How accurate are these subtitles, in your opinion? Have you ever noticed an error or mistranslation between the spoken dialogue and the written subtitles?

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I believe that translation subtitles were never accurate, but worsening since a couple of years back.

Simply there is no way to translate literally each dialog because the subtitle length is too short and the dynamic between reading a subtitle and the speaking part have different pace.

This is why many people recommend record your thoughts rather than written because both reading and writing takes longer than speaking.

But back to subtitles, beside inconsistencies between what is real said and what is translated, sometimes jokes, surnames and other cultural elements are substituted with regional counterparts that have nothing to do with the original version.

And if I said "subtitles were" is because there is a trend nowadays that makes those subtitles keep almost nothing of the original language version in an effort to use local colloquialisms and sometimes vulgarities trying to catch people's eye.

That's truly a shame  :confused:

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But back to subtitles, beside inconsistencies between what is real said and what is translated, sometimes jokes, surnames and other cultural elements are substituted with regional counterparts that have nothing to do with the original version.

And if I said "subtitles were" is because there is a trend nowadays that makes those subtitles keep almost nothing of the original language version in an effort to use local colloquialisms and sometimes vulgarities trying to catch people's eye.

That's truly a shame  :confused:

Yes, I've also noticed this.  I find it detracts from the movie, as it is jarring enough that it reminds me that I'm not getting the dialogue in the original language and I do feel I'm missing something.  It's an obvious incongruity. 

It's also unfortunate when there is way too much compression of the dialogue.  Hearing many more words than the subtitles are translating again leaves that feeling of being left out.

But still even with these limitations I'm always grateful for the opportunity to see a foreign language film. 

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I don't think many translations, especially in movies, can truly be fully accurate. Usually, in movies or TV shows, they are forced to shorten or condense an idea to keep up with the pace of the show, and often the humor, idioms, and other figures of speech tend to get lost between the cracks, but they are often substituted with the American version and I suppose it's the best option rather than having no translation at all.

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Scribendi: World-Class Editing and Proofreading

Yeah, it really depends. In a movie where there are just a few lines subtitled, they might be better (since there's less pressure to get the content in quickly) or a whole lot worse (since the team doing the translation may not be a solid one). But then again, English language movies with a little bit of another language in them often get that wrong anyway, spoken or written.

It also really depends on the country. For example dubbing has a horrid reputation in the States, and rightly so, but in Spain for instance it is a field populated by well paid professionals who do an exceptional job. But that's because there is a lot of demand, and good money, since most English language movies get translated for the mass market.

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I haven't watched too many, but the few I've watched have been quite good.  Off the top of my head...

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Absurdistan

Pans Labyrinth

The last one is really good.  I highly recommend watching it.

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I haven't watched too many, but the few I've watched have been quite good.  Off the top of my head...

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Absurdistan

Pans Labyrinth

The last one is really good.  I highly recommend watching it.

You didn't read the thread's title now, did you?

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How accurate are these subtitles, in your opinion? Have you ever noticed an error or mistranslation between the spoken dialogue and the written subtitles?

Way too many times!!!  They just do what they want with the translations, I know you can't do a literal translation, sometimes you have to change some words to adapt it to the cultural context of the audience the translation was made for. But some people over do it!  They totally change the meaning in very twisted ways! 

I was watching the walking dead the other day (with spanish subs) and thought, man, it'd suck if I didn't understand english... I'm sure a lot folks will missunderstand this or that phrase. That's why some translations seem so out of place :P

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I like to test this on movies that are originally in a different language but then translated with English audio and then matching that to the subtitles provided. It is never the same. Things get lost and, sometimes, added. It is quite the confusing way to watch a movie. Other then proving the translations are off I would not recommend it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

In the movies that I have watched that are with translations, I did get the message of the film, but since I'm not a native of that language that the film is using, I wouldn't really know if the translation was correct. But when it comes to movie captions, then you can't go wrong with English language and English captions, they're always correct.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Since most here know more than one language, I am sure that we all have noticed, that what is said, and what is written in subtitles, although close, is never the same intended dialogue.

Additionally, when the movie is translated with other voices in different language, it takes away from the personality of the character. A lot of dubbed movies sound robotic, rehearsed, and lack much emotion.

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In my country, subtitles are never accurate. I have a hobby: watching a movie and see how many words and expressions are translated wrong. What I hate the most is movie titles that sound great in English but awful in Romanian and they actually have nothing to do with the original title.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Yeah, I have to agree with Amalia, Romanian subtitles for English movies are quite bad :sad:. The most annoying subtitles that I've seen were usually on shows about cars, it's like they were intentionally trying to mess up. Looking at the bright side, I can always ignore the subs and just listen to what the actors are saying, and sometimes the subtitles get it so wrong that it's actually funny :devil:.

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  • 2 months later...

It depends on who made the English translations. I know that some languages are very  difficult to translate, and maybe there are even some words that don't have an English translation!

I actually find it quite funny when watching a movie of my second language, and seeing that the translation is incorrect.

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From what I see the "official" translation that I see on my local tv is sadly inaccurate sometimes and they are definitely not being translated seriously. I get that sometimes it's hard to translate to another language when it involves wordplay, pun, double entendre, or innuendo that didn't work that well in another language, but don't just leave things blank man! I have noticed that fansubs are usually better because it's translated by the fans, and they actually put in more effort to explain the jokes that wouldn't work that well in other languages. 

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  • 1 month later...

I have yet to see a subtitled translation that I thought was perfect. There is always something that just gets lost in translation. I don't think it's just a subtitle thing though. It's just translating in general is really tricky.  :confused:

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I've  seen this a few times and just thought of it as funny :clown:. I think they sometimes place these subtitles there because they want it to look as if the movie is in more than one language. When examined, you find that some of them are ridiculous. It would seem as if because a script was too long, the translation got shortened to fit that slide or the translator did an imperfect job. I doubt anyone even double checked before these movies hit the screen. :sad:

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  • 1 month later...

Translation subtitles are never very accurate, atleast not compared to the original language. The translation is what you could call, the translators interpretation of the sentence/part being translated. One could argue that one word will always translate to the same word no matter who you ask, but this is really not the case, and this is why one translation can be so extremely different from another.

And this is not just the case with English translations. I've read countless amounts of books translated into Swedish, or seen english movies with Swedish subtitles... And a lot of the time, the translations were bad or didn't really convey the same feelings/thoughts as the original language did.

Of course, if you do not understand the language being spoken or written, there is no other option, and all translations aren't neccesairly bad: but the original is always better. And I'm definately not saying that you cannot enjoy a translated work... It's rather so that, if you have the option to watch or read the original material without any translations: there is no reason not to do that.

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In my country, subtitles are never accurate. I have a hobby: watching a movie and see how many words and expressions are translated wrong. What I hate the most is movie titles that sound great in English but awful in Romanian and they actually have nothing to do with the original title.

Hahaha, same here, Amalia!  Over here most subtitles aren't accurate.  Most of the time the translator just does what she or he pleases, they completely let out the cultural references of the country or origin of the film and replace it for our own!  Which is awful, because if you don't speak English there is no way you'll never know and might not get the movie and the characters the way it was intended to be.

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I think this depends, and I'm not exactly sure how "accurate" my "mistake-spotting" is, but I do admit that not all subtitles fit right with the actual definition of the terms being said.

However, I also believe this depends on how dedicated and how much time the ones who make the subtitles (I'll call them subbers) put in constructing the translations. The more accurate the translations, the more time it takes for them before they release the translated subtitles, so I guess the real question is if the viewers could wait for more accurate subtitles (which really take time, depending on the length of the thing being subbed) or if they could settle with speed-subbed works.

When settling for speed-subbed works, this really depends on the staff and their dedication to work on translation and proofreading of the material being subbed. Then again, the effectiveness of their translations depend on 1.) the scope of the knowledge of the Translator to the language being subbed, and 2.) how good is the Proofreader/Grammar Checker in spotting mistakes in the grammar/etc.

Not only that, but "context" also has to be observed. Are the subtitles being created in context of what's actually happening (this means, in the anime/Japanese subbed context, a foreigner viewer in the world of anime - this means the "-sans" and the "-kuns" could be added and some terms have to be explained via translation notes), or are the subtitles created in the context that everything is happening around the vicinity (this means, in the anime/Japanese subbed context, the story is happening in our language context, this means the "-sans" and the "-kuns" are eliminated, and some terms are simply subbed into their nearest English counterpart).

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Most of the time the subtitles are not accurate at all, and it's a shame. The writers put a lot of effort into the dialogue, but it can sometimes be impossible to translate everything in such small place and still keep the original thought behind it. I've helped a friend a few tmes translating english puns into finnish fan made subtitles, and believe me, it's not easy.

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I really don't get how bad translation can appear in multi-million dollar blockbuster movies. Sometimes it seems like the producers did not even TRY to get a legitimate translator.

It really pisses me off when I see sentences literally translated word for word in movie translations rather than properly translated to convey the actual meaning the conversation was supposed to carry in the movie.

I mean, I work as a translator sometimes on Freelancer.com and I am convinced that some of my clients actually do a better job of screening translators and having other local translators check my finished work before using it than most movie distribution agencies.

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If you buy those pirated DVDs then you will see most of the translation are either wrong or completely messed up (the words in a sentence are not in order) so yes I have noticed a lot. It can really be annoying especially for the person who is relying on the subtitles to understand a movie.

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