Does your video need subtitles?
Updated: Apr 11
Whether you’ve made a video for your business or hobby, congratulations! Now that it’s finished and ready to share with the world, there’s one thing you may not have considered: whether or not your video needs subtitles.
Depending on your audience, it may not seem necessary. For instance, if your video is in English and only intended for English-language viewers, subtitles might not seem like a “must”. But take a look at some recent statistics and you may be surprised.
A number of recent studies and surveys have found that more than half of US viewers turn on subtitles when watching videos in English. Studies in the US and UK have found that subtitles are especially popular among younger viewers.
Researchers from UK- and US -based teams have discovered that there are several reasons for subtitles’ popularity even among the native speakers of a language. Notably, subtitles:
● help viewers understand thick accents
● are useful when watching videos with poorly balanced audio or poorly enunciated dialogue
● allow viewers to pay attention to a video while simultaneously doing something else, like scrolling through social media or messaging friends - not to mention real-world activities like taking care of children
● make it possible to watch videos at low or no volume, so as not to disturb other people at home or in public spaces (after all, a lot of videos are watched on mobile devices, which can be taken anywhere)
Another study found that a majority of children who watch videos on streaming services are viewing them with subtitles. Parents feel that seeing the words on the screen help with comprehension and may improve their reading skills.
If your video is intended for a global audience, subtitles would seem to be a necessity. Some audiences, like viewers in South Korea and China, are largely fans of subtitles. But you may be wondering if dubbing is a better option.
Some audiences do prefer dubbing to subtitles - for instance, the blind and visually impaired communities, as well as people who have difficulty reading or are unable to read (this includes, on a larger scale, communities with low literacy rates).
In an ideal situation, you could offer subtitled and dubbed versions of your video. But if that’s not the case, consider the viewers you most want to reach.
The key is to know your target audience, or audiences. You don’t necessarily have to hire a consultant for this. A simple online search about the use of subtitles and dubbing among your target audience(s), or even a survey of your own conducted on social media platforms, may provide enough insight.
One thing holds true for both subtitles and dubbing: Accuracy is essential.
Work with a language service provider who specifically focuses on localization or transcreation. This means that in addition to providing an accurate translation, they can make culture-specific adjustments so that your content will truly translate and connect with audiences around the world.
Don’t rely on AI-generated subtitles, unless there’s absolutely no other option. Anyone who’s used these on platforms like YouTube will understand. While some closed captions or subtitles on sites like these may do a passable job, you’ll often run into problems. For instance, a ‘bot may have trouble understanding the pronunciation of the speaker(s) in the video, resulting in an incorrect transcription or translation. AI also has difficulty identifying idioms, irony, figurative language, slang, and proper names. It’s unquestionably better to have a human generate your subtitles - or a live person using AI tools, at least.
So, does your video need subtitles? The answer is yes. Providing subtitles, even if only in your native language, will make your video more accessible and comprehensible to viewers. And if possible, dubbing would be a way to bring your video to an even wider audience.
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg