Subtitling: Pro vs. Amateur

If my ten-year-old self had known about this, she would’ve been over the moon. But that’s not really the case today… 

As a 90s kid, I vividly remember the thrill I felt when I waited impatiently for the next episode of the Japanese manga, Detective Conan, to come out on TV. Today, I can easily binge watch an entire series without even being interrupted by ads.

There’s more! Not only can I watch my favorite series whenever and wherever I want, but I can also watch it with the subtitles of my choice.

As soon as the latest episode of Game of Thrones comes out, fans around the world translate it and share it online. That’s called Fansubbing.

It all began in the 80s with a western admiration for the Japanese cultural industry of mangas and anime. Fansubbers freely gave of their time to offer translated episodes to their fellow fans who couldn’t understand Japanese.

Back in the day, translating a movie cost a pretty penny… you needed a laserdisc player along with laserdiscs of the movie, tape recorders, wires, a PC and an early version of the Sub Station Alpha software.

Nowadays, anyone can fansub. All you need is your laptop, an easy to use easy to download subtitling program, and voilà! You are officially a fansubber.

Many consider fansubbers as cultural mediators who break down language barriers… After all they do help me understand Detective Conan’s impressive deductions. However, we – professional translators – still see them as amateurs.

Whenever I watch anything online, I cannot help but cringe when a spelling or a grammar mistake pops up on the screen. And don’t get me started on the subtitling rules that are carelessly broken…

“Prosubbers” use every linguistic muscle they have to synchronize the translation with the image and they constantly worry about exceeding the subtitle length limit.

As hard as the subtitling rules may seem, breaking them seems a lot easier…

It can get a bit distracting

A bit confusing…

And a bit embarrassing.

Even though these translations are not the best, they do make you chuckle more than once. And let’s be honest, it wouldn’t hurt anyone if translators used some help in facing this world of ever-growing information.


19 comments on “Subtitling: Pro vs. Amateur

  1. For someone from the old generation of translators like me, I find this subject fascinating and quite a challenge. Well done, Ghida!

    • Indeed, it is also challenging for the new generation. And overcoming such challenges is what will make us better translators. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my article and for your comment!

  2. As someone who’s still to this day a big fan of Detective Conan and other anime shows, I relate so much to this article! Great choice of examples. The article is clear and straight to the point. Well done, Ghida!

  3. That’s a very interesting read! It did remind me of subbed animes i used to watch – still do sometimes- and yes some translations were just hilarious!

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