Reading time: 5 mins

Subtitling and captioning are crucial for reaching your customer base and succeeding on a global scale. Communication in your target customer’s own language is key to a successful marketing strategy. For video content, subtitle translation is essential if you want to expand.

This is the third and final in Alamma’s series of articles on subtitling. Previously we explained what subtitles are and how to tackle their translation; here, we explore the best approach to ordering a subtitle translation.

Although computer technology for automatic generation of subtitles exists, it is still quite inaccurate and often makes serious mistakes. Subtitle translators do much more than translating the speaker’s words into another language, they strive to preserve the speaker’s tone, intent, passion, and even (or especially) humour.

What does your LSP need to know when you order a subtitle translation?

Here is a checklist of items that help your LSP (language service provider) translate video or subtitles that will meet your needs and expectations. When sending an order, use this checklist to provide as much information as possible.

Source video

Needless to say, the source video is the backbone of any subtitling project. If you do not have the transcription we use the video to prepare one, which will serve as the basis for subtitle creation. Even if you have the text transcribed, sending the video file is still essential. It will provide key context for the linguist, which cannot be deduced from the text alone. This includes information about who is speaking, non-verbal communication, tone of voice, off-screen speakers, and other audio-visual elements.


This is the typed out spoken text from the video. If you do or send it yourself, this will shorten the time needed to do the translation and subtitles, since it eliminates an additional step in the process. Exercise caution if you use (online) tools for automatic captioning – the resulting transcription may be lacking in terms of accuracy and consistency and will need to be edited. If you have a timestamped subtitle file on hand (e.g. in the SRT format), this is even better and means that the LSP can start translating straight away. If you only have the video, do not worry; your LSP will take care of everything, only be aware that the entire process will demand a little more time.

Information on intended use

Tell us as much as you can on how and where your video will be used. Will it be published online, sent out to clients or internally to employees, used as an ad on TV or social media? This use context influences the translation in terms of grammar, vocabulary, register, and cultural specifics.

Preferred format

The best file format for your needs depends on how you want to use your video. SRT is the most common and straightforward subtitle file type, which consists of simple time codes and plain subtitle text. Many other formats offer greater versatility and may be a better option in specific cases. You may also opt for closed captions, which are ‘burned’ directly into the video itself and cannot be removed or edited independently. Lastly, you may also have your own subtitling team that can take care of everything besides the translation. You might thus ask your LSP to prepare the translation in a simple text format (e.g. .docx or .txt), which can be easily copy-pasted elsewhere. Such a service will undoubtedly be cheaper, as the LSP will be able to treat it like any other translation (of course keeping in mind the specifics of subtitle translation). In any case, it is important to let your LSP know your preferred format or ask them for advice if you are unsure which one to choose.

Special requirements

Subtitles may require other adjustments that your LSP needs to know. The most common are:

  • Number of characters per line: the typical upper limit is about 35 characters, but this may vary. For example, the platform where your video will be published may have a different preferred limit.
  • Reading speed: this is the length of time an individual subtitle will be displayed on screen. Oftentimes it has to strike the right balance between the speaker’s pace and the viewer’s reading comfort. However, videos with slow or sporadic speech may give you some freedom in deciding how long you wish the subtitles to linger.
  • Special formatting: subtitles are usually written in a plain font and neutral colour to make them as unobtrusive and readable as possible. Sometimes, light formatting is needed to visually separate specific information (e.g. stressed or foreign words, titles, and descriptions of off-screen sounds are typically written in italics). Be sure to let your LSP know if you have specific requests regarding the formatting.


Last, but certainly not least, the deadline is key for any translation order. It helps your LSP organise the work and set appropriate timelines for all parties involved. Be aware that subtitle translations take longer than regular translation. The time depends on the number of services required: do you need everything from transcription, translation, proofreading, to timestamping and creation of a subtitle file from scratch – or just some of these steps? Clearly express your time constraints and work closely with your LSP on finding solutions.

Using subtitle translation to make your audio-visual content accessible to audiences outside your country’s borders can be the most cost-effective and successful option. An expert translation service provider is the best choice to meet your subtitle translation needs. Our professional team can handle a wide range of languages, so do not hesitate to contact us for a quote! Send us your enquiry to, where we are available to answer your questions.

What are your experiences with subtitle translations? Is there anything you would like to add to our list? Let us know in the comments below!