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How accurate are English translation subtitles?


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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.

Similiar effect if you turn on video captions on YouTube. Turns any video into un-intended comedy :D

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  • 4 weeks later...

I think it depends on who translated the film or series. There are actually sentences or words that you need to revise to make sense that's why it might not be 100% accurate. A good example of that are the Korean series I've been watching. I know some basic Korean language and there are time that an actor says a word I'm familiar with but I didn't see in the subtitle.

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When translating any form of media, you have to consider the audience's familiarity with culture from which the media originates and its purpose.  You can choose to be more literal if you expect your audience to be fairly knowledgeable about the originating culture, but you have to do a lot substitution if otherwise or else the meaning might be entirely misunderstood.  Also, considering that languages do not have complete one-to-one correspondence to each other due to differences in lexicon and grammar, it's impossible to have a perfect translation of anything.

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  • 1 month later...

I have noticed discrepancies in translations a lot. This always happens when you buy or download bootleg copies of movies. For instance, whenever a good Filipino film is uploaded prematurely online, the English subtitles are annoying and funny at the same time.

Sometimes, translations are very literal. That's the problem.

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Scribendi: World-Class Editing and Proofreading

It's not only English Subtitles. If you watch, for example, The Simpson dubbed into Latin American Spanish, you'll see they flat out replace a joke with a different joke, because they believe Latin American people will not get the original reference. For example, in one episode they replace Homer talking about "Urkel" for "Alf", which was way more popular with Latin American audiences.

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You really would think movie producers would be willing to spend some budget on accurate translations...

Translating is pretty hard and all, but there's a lot of people that are willing to do it, not to mention it's really not hard to find someone whose native languages is something other than English who also has good English, and such a person is very capable of translating something with the meaning that was intended.

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I am from India with Hindi as my native language and I can tell you that most of the English Subtitles are not at all accurate. It's like the are trying to make fun of someone who doesn't understand Hindi.

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Even though the subtitles are a little inaccurate, I still see it being way more accurate than the dubbing.

I think its because they need to size the phrases and the timing with the movement of the mouth in the movie, when in subbing they need to keep it short, but have a little more liberty.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well there are some subtitles where the errors are so obvious, that you may find it humorous. You can tell by the simplicity or odd dialogue that there were no proper way to translate the language. I just hate it when that happens. But sometimes, unless you know both languages, you may not be able to tell if you are missing something even if the translation seems to be correct. But I actually prefer dubs, if they are available, as I like look at the characters talk and not miss any action in the process. 

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  • 1 year later...

I ran into a similar problem while watching The Nightmare Before Christmas on Netflix, only the subtitle difference was in the same language!  I was watching it with Spanish audio and Spanish subtitles.  Since I know the movie by hear in English, I figured watching it in Spanish would give me a better handle on the language.  However the Spanish subtitles were using different words than the Spanish audio.  For example, the line "This is Halloween" was "Esta Halloween" in the audio and "Es Halloween" in the subtitles.   

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Let's say they are 'decent'.

Here in the Netherlands, all non-Dutch non-children movies and series get subtitled by default.
English to Dutch subtitles are quite accurate (even though the don't subtitle swear words sometimes), but Polish to Dutch gets incorrectly translated for the most of the time.
Maybe that's because almost every Dutch person can speak English, but Polish people generally can't speak Dutch and vice versa, so perhaps they can easily apply some propaganda to it?
Who knows? :P

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  • 5 weeks later...

   if it was an official translation it was probably accurate but if it was something that you downloaded from the internet it was probably very much wrong. I see a lot of English movies and TV shows online and I do not need subtitles but I like to check and what I usually see goes from funny to scary. These English to Serbian subtitles are basically 70 percent wrong. it is incredible. I am afraid to watch a French movie or a German one I still do though but I really try to find some official translations if possible not just some anonymous.

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  • 7 months later...

I watch a lot of dramas on Viki and I kind of accept that most of the subtitles aren't perfect because of how fast they are doing them.  Though I have to say that they seem better than the ones I watch on old translated movies.  But it really depends on the quality of the website or movie and what they can really afford.  I think that it's inevitable that some of the meaning is lost because how a culture speaks is unique had has words or phrases only found in that culture and they don't translate over regardless.  So I accept that what I'm reading is often the more analytically 'correct' version of the original dialogue. 

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I have found that some movies really are translated very accurately while others change the movie completely. i think that it must be more difficult to translate movies then books for instance. Since there are visual cues who ever is doing the translating can't stray to much from the original text, even though they sometimes do.

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I personally think that translations are not too accurate. The same thing happens when they translate from English into Spanish, a sixty percent of the phrases and dialogues they translate does not have anything to do with what the real audio says. I do not really understand why it has to be like that, maybe because they feel they're giving the dialogues more sense and whatnot. I also think that it sounds really awkward, at least it has happened to me when I'm watching translated movies, sometimes I am like "wow, he did not say that" and yes, that's odd.

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I think a lot of compromises have to be made when making subtitles for movies and shows because not only do you have to worry about the ease of reading quickly to follow the story but also you have to sync up the length of the phrase we the visual of the speech. Often times I will catch a few subtitles written wherein the context or the purpose might be similar but the phrase itself is completely different from the original spoken word. 

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From my experience, I watch Japanese movies, and they have decent English subtitles.  There are various fansubs such as TV-Nihon and Over-Time which translate Japanese texts into English.  TV-Nihon fansubs stay within the literal meaning of the spoken dialogue.  For example, a certain example is from a movie, where a character says,  'shounen shoujo' it is translated and subtitled as "boys and girls."  Over-Time, on the other hand, takes the translation in another direction by focusing more on what is being conveyed, so 'shounen shoujo' from their perspective means "children." Either way, both translations are okay, though TV-Nihon is word-for-word accurate.  Another difference between these two sites is when it comes to translating show titles.  TV-Nihon prefers to keep the original title, while Over-Time translates the title as may be necessary, such as zyuden being translated to "voltasaur," whiled ressha translated to "express," and so on.

In the end, it all boils down to personal preference.  i used to pick TV-Nihon for shows which they subbed, but later switched to Over-Time because they focus on the meaning of the words.

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