DOs and DON'Ts of subtitles translation from English into Russian | July 2016 | Translation Journal

July 2016 Issue

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DOs and DON'Ts of subtitles translation from English into Russian

Subtitles and captions translation is a very attractive and popular  profession nowadays. Many a job-offering website are abound in job postings, and that is what like a magnet draws newbies and experienced freelancers to try their hand and make some money.

Although the expertise is not new, yet the theoreticians started to show their interest in in quite recently [1].

The present analytical article has quite a advisory purpose and can come in handy to newbies starting their subtitling and captioning career.

Working as a translator and reviewer for one of websites out there, I had to deal with a tons of translations done by colleagues that needed to be QA-ed. Doing the fourth or fifth of them, it occurred to me to start collecting this vast and priceless material of errors and blunders that could be used for an article like this. As examples, we are giving you segments with timecodes and the translation choices translators opted for.

The present article we would like to dedicate to Russian into English and vice versa translation (DOs), where we will provide you with illustrations of (DON’Ts) taken from real life to avoid pure theorizing and hollow talk.

It is noteworthy that the current status quo on the Russian translators market is pretty stiff: competition is high, yet most linguists do not care much about quality of the job they are doing whereas they ought to.

Our scope of expertise encompasses quite wide areas: from beauty care to IT companies’ presentations and speeches. Yet, it does not matter what specialty a translator works in - they should at least respect final recipients of their product, let alone project managers and reviewers which I, as a latter saw least of all.

So, DOs of English into Russian translation of captions and subtitles:

  1. Every company is supposed to provide a translator with their style guide. Thus, if they haven’t yet, feel free to claim it before it’s too late.
  2. On having been assigned the task, follow the link, make sure you listen to and watch the whole file for translation, not just start typing in.
  3. Feeling unsure or have questions? Never hesitate to contact your PM - they are responsible for the assignment and trust you!
  4. Before actual translating, stock on all possible and necessary Russian terminology resource websites [2]
  5. Google [3] everything feeling uncertain, out of place or lost, a very good website for seeing how contextually unknown original ambiguities can be used is[4]
  6. General information, rules and recommendations on subtitles is available online [5]
  7. Short checklist:
    • compression is a must
    • any subtitle or caption must contain no more than 2-3 lines (which is ca 42 characters), be readable, encompass all what has been said
    • if that is an IT-domain where you are translating, a very good linguistic resource portal is Microsoft Language Portal [5]

Now, as promised, a few DON’ts supported with illustrations and timecodes. So, don’t:

1. Be too sure you know everything connected with [subtitles] translation and shun resorting to checking things out [Googling challenges at least]:

[segment starts][♪ music ♪][********, What is Checkpoint?] [segment ends]

[segment starts] [♪ музыка ♪] [название программы, что такое точка контроля?][segment ends]. We feel, that, perhaps,  it was pretty complicated for a translator to type in the name of the program into to avoid a translation blunder like that.

2. Be too literal for fear of not being able to get into compression rule. That also concerns ‘translators’ who do not care to use multiple variants rendering the verb ‘to say’ and ‘tell’  into Russian:



[segment starts]I just said there's so much.

[segment starts]Я так много всего сказала,[segment ends]

3. Be careless with register of the language you are translating into especially when translating speeches, reports and not take into consideration language difference, that concerns the case with ‘You’, which in Russian can be formal and informal: 

[segment starts] You know, we're coming here today with an ecosystem that has today counting more...[segment ends]

[segment starts]Знаешь, вот сейчас у нас есть экосистема, насчитывающая более…  [segment ends]

Theeing and thouing in this case sound very folksy, while in the original the ‘you’ can is quite fine.

4. Verbosity and bad style correspondence. Compression was mentioned as the main must as far as translation transformations go. Translator’s lack of knowledge of the [IT] expertise led to a deplorable translation choice:

[segment starts] ...was that the process was completely different from what we'd seen before.[segment ends]

[segment starts]...что процесс был совершенно не похож ни на что из виденного нами прежде. [segment ends]

5. Continuing on the difference of the two languages. Never ever even think of Cyrillic-ing original company names into Russian, or else you risk ending up with the following  ‘gem’:

[segment starts] ...our own enterprise mobility, security, the partnerships with Apple, and the list goes on.[the segment ends]

[segment starts] ...мобильность и безопасность нашего собственного предприятия, партнерство с Эппл, и список продолжает расти. [the segment ends]

6. Be literal! That is humor part. In a translation ofOnce in a blue moon, a translator chose the easiest way to deal with idioms:Однажды в голубую лунуwhich is a word for word translation.



About Alexandra Liashchenko


Aleksandra Liashchenko is a translator and teacher of English. She was born in Havana, Cuba in 1981, and graduated from Kiev National Taras Shevchenko University, Kiev, Ukraine in 2003, where she received her Master's degree in Translation.

She speaks English, German, Dutch, and Spanish.

Aleksandra is currently working on her PhD in English-Ukrainian-English translation 'Explicitation in English-Ukrainian-English Translation in contemporary English-speaking and Ukrainian prose.' She is now residing in Framingham, MA.

Aleksandra has written seven scientific articles devoted to the problems of explicitation in English-Ukrainian-English translation and participated at three scientific conferences at Kiev National Taras Shevchenko University.

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