Captioning and Subtitling: Reading the Audio Track on Screen

As children, we learned to pat our heads and rub our stomach at the same time. As adults, we read subtitles and watch videos, managing to absorb both. Impressive, right?

When we as viewers watch a video, training course, or other media production containing subtitles, we look for three key things:

  • A good flow of easily readable subtitles
  • Enough time to process the written words while paying attention to the video element
  • A seamless fit between subtitles (graphic files) and the original video element

A high-quality experience requires a subtitling team of specialized translators who are native speakers of the target language. The subtitle translation should be kept as brief as possible to allow your audience enough time to read. In addition, the text that appears on screen must be timed to the corresponding image, independent of the structure and grammatical requirements of the target language.

Proficient font selection involves matching the subtitle font to the language’s requirements for maximum readability.

Subtitles and Captions

“Subtitles” and “Captions” are often used interchangeably, though there is a fine distinction between the two: “Subtitles” assume the viewer can hear but not understand the language or other elements of speech, so the dialogue and part of the on-screen text will appear printed on the screen. “Captions” are intended for the deaf and hard of hearing, and include all audio content – spoken dialogue and non-spoken information (such as the identity of speakers and, occasionally, their manner of speaking) – along with any significant music or sound effects using words or symbols.

Tell offers both subtitling and captioning services.

Multi-lingual Subtitling

Tell offers expert-level translation and subtitle files for over 50 languages. We ensure that the timing of your subtitles is impeccable, and we provide efficient project turnaround times.

Our team of experts includes:

  • Skilled English captioners to create the original English Master List (EML)
  • Translators who are native speakers and who are fluent in English to write the translation inside the EML file
  • Reviewers who verify the translation and its suitability for subtitles
  • Quality Control experts with experience in the language of translation and the timing of subtitles who approve the final files. 

When do you need English Subtitles?

Tell creates English subtitles for two common scenarios:

  1. English as a Second Language (ESL): Similar to what you would see in a foreign film, the subtitles do not include sound effects and are meant for non-native English speakers who might miss part of the spoken audio track.
  2. Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (SDH): in addition to the spoken audio, these subtitles include all sound effects, along with speaker identification. This is recommended when only one version of English subtitles is created, so that all audiences are included.

No matter what authoring system you use, we deliver your subtitles (including text and timing data) in a format that your authoring system can easily import and use.


DVD authoring involves assembling the available elements (video, film, stills, menus, audio) into a format compliant with the DVD specification. The specification is a set of standards and guidelines created to help ensure compatibility and unity with all DVD players and DVD content. The specification may vary between countries, and different authoring systems may require varying file formats as input.

Subtitles on your Screen

There are several ways to lay subtitles on screen, and the final result will depend on your preferences and on the video element.

The two main options are:

  1. Subtitles laid directly onto the image in a font and color of your choice
  2. Subtitles laid in a box that is put on top of the image. The background color of the box, the font, and its color are your choice.

Depending on your selection, the text can appear in different sections of the screen.

Let us help you localize your video for an international audience. We specialize in:

  • Corporate re-branding
  • Online training and promotional videos
  • E-learning

For questions, or to request a quote for subtitles, contact us about your project.