The Art of Subtitling: Translation vs. Adaptation

Boris Simonse
Boris Simonse
Posted in Media
4 min read
translation vs. adaptation

In this article we explain the differences between adapting and translating your subtitles. Find out what works best for your audiovisual content!

Subtitles aren't just words on a screen. They serve as the key to unlocking a global audience across many different languages. When translating content into subtitles, it is worth keeping in mind whether more true-to-original translation or a creative adaptation best conveys the message you want to send. Let's look at the difference between these two and their best use cases so you can understand how to make the biggest impact on your final audience.

How to Localize Your Subtitles

Foreign-language subtitling isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all. It's more like a spectrum with more literally translated subtitles on one end and more creatively translated subtitles on the other. While translation tries to accurately and faithfully interpret the source audio into a foreign language, adaptation interprets words and sentences more creatively to make sure the translated content resonates with the audience exactly in the same way as the source content would have done.

Literal Translation

Sometimes, a simple word-for-word translation works. It's like turning spoken words directly into written text in another language, without worrying too much about the natural flow and syntax as well as grammar of a sentence. While this 'technical translation' has some benefits in specific fields, like legal and scientific research, it is not suitable for display on audiovisual media where the translation should be read with ease. That’s why Happy Scribe does not offer literally translated subtitles.

Translation

The most true-to-source, foreign interpretation that Happy Scribe can offer for your audiovisual content is translation. Translation is all about striking a delicate balance between staying true to the original audio while rendering an organically flowing interpretation of the foreign source audio. The final audience should be able to perfectly understand the original meaning of the source audio in naturally-sounding language.

Happy Scribe transforms original language subtitles into another language without changing the tone or style. Our translation service is all about clarity and coherence, even keeping details like currencies, measurement systems, number formatting, tone of voice etc. consistent with the source audio. We blend automated, AI-subtitling and professional, human-made subtitling methods to ensure top-notch quality for technical content across various fields. You can then choose to translate your subtitles into many available languages. Read more about Happy Scribe’s subtitle translation services here.

Adaptation

Adaptation goes beyond just translating— it's about adjusting the foreign text to truly connect with the target culture. When you adapt, your audience should feel like the subtitles were made just for them, as if there was never a translation in the first place!

To craft such an engaging and relatable translation, several factors need to be considered.

At Happy Scribe, adaptation requires blending common elements of adaptation (adapting idioms, humor, slang, cultural references) with elements of localisation (converting measurements, currencies, writing and notation systems, dialects, vocabulary, etc.).

Exclusive to human services, adaptation is ideal for creative projects like marketing, TV shows and films. You're trying to evoke a feeling with the audience that requires a deep understanding of who you're targeting and the appropriate adaptations. As such, a two-step workflow is needed to ensure the subtitles connect effectively with the viewer. Read more about Happy Scribe’s subtitle adaptation services here.

translation

Adaptation vs. Translation: Making the Right Choice

So, when you're picking between translation and adaptation for subtitling your video content, there's a few things to take into consideration. To summarize: translation is great for technical stuff like tutorials where you need to be crystal clear. However, adaptation really stands out in creative content or marketing that matches your audience's local taste.

And don't forget about cultural nuances – financial reports call for precise translation, but a movie script might need a little adjustment to capture those idioms and humor that click with the viewers you're aiming for. Below you can find a few examples that might help you making the right choice.

Examples of translation and adaptation

Now, let's get nitty gritty and show you some examples so you can better understand what service would be the best for your audiovisual content. And what's a better way to learn about the differences between translation and adaptation than trying to guess for yourself? Take the below sentence, for example. Translation or adaptation?

Adaptation versus Translation

And what about this one? Translation or adaptation?

Adaptation versus Translation

The first example is a clear example of translation, and not literal translation, because otherwise the translation would be "That's weird". The meaning of that French phrase is actually "That's amazing". However, “ouf” is a slang word from French verlan. It makes more sense to capture the “slang” in the target language as well. A similar slang phrase in English could be “That’s fire”.

Another example - which one is translation and which one is adaptation?

Adaptation versus Translation
Adaptation versus Translation

In this case, the latter screenshot represents adaptation, because even though the type of insect has been changed, the adaptation still keeps the core of the joke (incorporating the sound of the insect). In the former case, the joke might be faithful to the source, but it doesn’t quite hit, does it?

And the last one:

Adaptation versus Translation

"Even monkeys fall from trees" would be a literal translation here. However, it's a Japanese saying and needs to be treated as such. A good translation would be "Everyone makes mistakes", but if we want to sound more idiomatic, we should say: "Nobody's perfect". None of the original idiom’s words are still there, but the meaning and the use of idiomatic language is there. As a result, the effect is the same for both a Japanese-speaking and an English-speaking audience.

Translation vs. Adaptation, which service do you need?

Understanding the purpose and preferences of your content acts as the compass in the maze of translation and adaptation. When aiming for a global audience, never overlook the significance of well-chosen subtitles. They serve as the protectors of your story, ensuring it resonates authentically in any language. So, when you strive to engage the world with your message, ponder your choices thoughtfully - will it be translation or adaptation?

At Happy Scribe, we offer both services to cover all your subtitling needs. To better understand our service levels, please take a look here, or check out the table below, where we explain how Happy Scribe can help you reach a global audience with your audiovisual content.

translation

Our team would love to talk to you about how we can help you with your subtitling workflow. Please contact us at: sales@happyscribe.com

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