OTP Learning Series 08: How to tackle reading-speed issues

[How to tackle reading-speed issues] Because we don’t want our viewers to miss any subtitles, we always want to maintain an accessible “reading speed,” that is, the speed with which the viewer must be able to read the subtitle before it disappears from the screen. The reading speed is a numerical value of characters per second, and it may vary depending on the script used in the subtitles, with 21 characters per second as the maximum speed for languages which use the Latin alphabet.

If you’re having problems maintaining a good reading speed in your subtitles, here are some strategies that should help. First, you can give the viewer more time to read the subtitle. To do this, simply click and drag the end of the subtitle and extend its duration until the reading speed is back to normal. This may also offset the start time of the next subtitle but a good reading speed is always more important than perfect synchronization. However, a later start time for the next subtitle can create reading-speed issues in it, too, so sometimes, you will need to adjust that subtitle too, and then the next, until the reading-speed correction cascade is complete. Extending the duration by a large amount is not always a good idea, especially if the following subtitle needs to be closely synchronized with something happening in the video.

But you can also help the viewers by giving them less text to read, and we call this “compressing” the subtitle. By compressing, you rephrase a subtitle to reduce the total amount of text, but without actually changing its meaning. There are multiple compression strategies you can use, and here are just a few examples. You can get rid of non-crucial words and phrases, like “well,” “as a matter of fact,” or “as I was saying.” You can reduce repetitions and restatements. For example, you can change “It was delivered in this huge, enormous box.” into “It was delivered in this huge box.” You can reduce explicit references to what is visible in the video. For example, you can change “You are seeing a slide with the results of our latest test” into “You are seeing the results of our latest test.” You can find many more compression strategies in our detailed guide on OTPedia. And remember that you can also compress text in transcripts, because a transcript doesn’t have to be word-for-word if compression is necessary for a good reading speed.

One additional way to tackle reading-speed issues is by combining two subtitles. Sometimes, you will see one subtitle with just a little text that displays for a long time, followed by another subtitle with a lot of text that displays for a short time and has reading-speed issues. Merging them can eliminate the problem. To merge subtitles, copy and paste the text of one subtitle into the other, delete the original subtitle, and then extend the duration of the new, combined subtitle over the resulting time gap. Remember that you can’t join the end of one sentence or clause and the beginning of another, but if the subtitles actually do belong to one complete clause and one complete idea, you can merge them, and get one subtitle with a good reading speed. For example, you wouldn’t merge these subtitles, and that’s because “who he was, and later, I found” combines parts of two different clauses and doesn’t really express any coherent, complete idea. However, you can merge subtitles like these, because “and this was the book that I had been looking for” is a full clause and does express a coherent, complete idea.

I will leave you with one important hint. When tackling reading-speed issues, always try to combine these strategies. Compress a little, and then extend the duration a tiny amount to completely fix the reading-speed issue. Remember that by not exceeding the reading-speed limit in your subtitles, you can make sure that no part of the ideas that you are helping to share will end up being inaccessible to the viewers.

And for now, happy transcribing and translating! And compressing!.

As found on Youtube