A few weeks ago, I asked Damián Santilli to write an article about the current state of audiovisual translation tools for my own Tool Box Journal (www.internationalwriters.com/toolkit). He did, and my readers and I were very impressed by the depth of his knowledge and his vision for a field that’s growing very rapidly. So, in a slight departure from my usual column, Damián will take over from here with a slightly modified version of his original article. Enjoy!
—Jost Zetzsche (Chair, ATA Translation and Interpreting Resources Committee)
Translation environment tools are steadily improving. The overwhelming presence of neural machine translation (NMT) in every translation suite, plus the constant improvement of technologies (e.g., upLIFT from SDL Trados Studio) are changing the way we approach translation with almost every project. In audiovisual translation (AVT), however, despite technical improvements and innovations in apps from streaming services, it sometimes feels like we subtitlers are still working in much the same way we did back in 2000.
Back then, we faced a huge leap in methodology and tool availability. We rapidly went from receiving physical materials to subtitle to logging into our clients’ servers to download media and then email back the subtitles. Although some things have changed in the past few years, professional subtitlers working for direct clients like production companies, or even film directors themselves, have been using the same resources for a while now: free software and software that’s too expensive for some freelancers. So, what have we been missing in between? Well, features like the ones found in tools technical translators use (e.g., memoQ, Wordfast, and Trados Studio)—although we also have our own options, kind of. Let’s dive into some possible software options to help us in our work and see what’s new for subtitlers. (Please refer to the sidebar for links to the tools mentioned.)
Can We Still Rely on Free Software for Professional Subtitlers?
The short answer is yes. If you’re the type of subtitler who prefers working mainly for direct clients instead of large streaming services via vendors who don’t always offer the best rates, then you might be in a sweet spot in the AVT world. I don’t mean this just because you get to charge higher rates. You can actually use many free software alternatives, like our old friends Subtitle Workshop and VisualSubSync, or the more frequently updated and flashy Aegisub and Subtitle Edit. They all allow you to deal with large media files in a variety of formats—yes, they’re powerful enough to do that. You don’t really need to pay if you’re also trained on spotting with these tools. (Spotting refers to determining the “in time”—the time at which the subtitle appears on-screen—and “out time”—the time at which the subtitle disappears.) However, you might be interested in investing (a lot) in more professional tools.
I Have the Money and Want to Invest in Something Better.
There’s no doubt that despite their elevated price, both WINCAPS Q4 Subtitling Software and EZ Titles offer great improvements with things like recognizing some of the subtitles from the audio and letting you save time on spotting and creating subtitles from DVD or Blu-ray, for instance, if that’s something you’re looking for. They also have a more powerful interface, which is something you would expect from more expensive tools. But when it comes to technical translation, for instance, can’t you do pretty much the same thing with a free, open source tool like OmegaT instead of spending the money on a more professional tool? Yes, you can. And in the case of subtitle editors, that same logic applies, although with a big difference. If you want to invest in professional software, you’ll have to pay around $1,700 for the EZ Titles basic edition and $300 a year for WINCAPS. Is it worth the investment? It certainly is if you can afford it.
What about the Cloud?
Here we can find some new alternatives: some of them free and some expensive (but not outrageously so).
I’ve been particularly impressed by Ooona, which is similar in price to the most expensive alternatives but offers a wide variety of options. For instance, if you’re used to working with timed templates (where subtitles appear for a specified time), you can opt
for the cheapest option, Ooona Translate, and subtitle online without having to install software. (See Figure 1.) Certainly, this is a great way to go about things nowadays, considering that most subtitlers are working with timed templates. (It’s worth noting here, though, that if you’re working for Netflix, for instance, you’ll be translating directly on their online software and won’t need anything else.)
Amara is another great alternative for working directly from the cloud, with two options, Plus and Pro, which are both somewhat cheaper than other paid alternatives. Additionally, Amara has a free public version that enables you to use their powerful editor, but all subtitles you create there are publicly available. This means you can’t use this software professionally, but it’s an excellent way to start for many translators wanting to take their first steps in AVT. There are other options you can find online, like Subtitle Edit Online and Subtitle Horse, but I would recommend trying either Ooona or Amara, particularly if you’re a Mac user and find it difficult to get different alternatives for your specific needs.
Subtitling with Translation Memories and Termbases—Are We There Yet?
As I said in the introduction, if you’re like me and work as a subtitler as well as a technical translator, you might have been wondering why it’s so hard to have a subtitling environment tool with translation memories and termbases. Especially considering that two, three, or even more translators might be working at the same time on an entire season of an upcoming television show. Well, there’s a catch: you need a source text, right? While this might seem obvious to you and me, it isn’t for translation environment tool makers. Some developers—e.g., SDL with their Studio Subtitling app or memoQ with their memoQ Video Preview Tool—assumed that we would be translating from files where we could watch the video inside the translation environment tool while subtitling. But most of us don’t work like that. We work from audio, and if we do have a script, it’s formatted as plain text in a PDF or Word file.
So, Where Do We Go from Here?
It’s clear that going forward we need to find an alternative that, combined with speech recognition technology, allows us to create translation units without having a timed template. This, together with the possibility of sharing termbases between several translators working on the same project within the same subtitling environment tool, and potentially allowing interaction between translators—as we are starting to see in some web-based tools—could drastically change the way we work. In that regard, there might be something cooking between artificial intelligence, automatic speech recognition, and NMT developer AppTek and Ooona, who appear to have joined forces (see xl8.link/AppTek-Ooona). We’ll just have to wait and see.
For more information on the tools mentioned in this column, see the links below.
memoQ Video Preview Tool
SDL Studio Subtitling App
Subtitle Edit Online
Damián Santilli is a sworn English<>Spanish translator and a certified international Spanish copy editor, proofreader, and training expert. His areas of expertise are subtitling, software localization, information technology, engineering, and mechanics. In 2018, he was part of the team that created Netflix’s Hermes test and was in charge of the Latin-American version of the exam. Contact: email@example.com.
Jost Zetzsche is chair of ATA’s Translation and Interpreting Resources Committee. He is the author of Translation Matters, a collection of 81 essays about translators and translation technology. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column has two goals: to inform the community about technological advances and encourage the use and appreciation of technology among translation professionals.