Last week I was interpreting for a big racing car company’s technician training workshop. On day 4, we watched a technician-training video, the subtitle of which has been translated into Chinese. The subtitle translation made me angry. It seemed to me that the translator had not even mastered the most basic rule in subtitle translation–how many words you put in a line!
In subtitle translation into Chinese, there is a fundamental rule of no more than 13 characters in one line. In exceptional situations where the sentences are really long and the actors talked really fast, you can have no more than 20 characters in one line. If too long, break it into two lines of roughly even number of characters. This is for the comfort of reading for the audience–the length of 13 characters is the comfortable span for the eyes. However, in this video, we had to constantly look at subtitles of 30, even 40 characters in one line, and in the second line right below it, only one character was standing there, alone and lonely! It was frustrating and tiring. Many times I was not able to finish the sentence before the picture flashed into the next page.
There were also places where the translation was a bit awkward–not natural to the Chinese way of speaking. Since each line only stays on the picture for just a couple of seconds, awkward sentences made it more difficult to read and understand. Also a few places where the division between lines or pages were funny, creating ambiguous sentences. I know the translation work was given to an agency. It should be responsible for the quality of the translator. Apparently, not the case here.
This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)