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How to create good subtitles

Spelling and punctuation

Install a spell checker for your browser (all the major browsers support this; you can also install spellchecking dictionaries for several languages). Be careful not to leave any spelling mistakes that the spellchecker will miss, e.g. "their are" instead of "they are." Make sure you haven't left any double spaces in your subtitles.

Read about punctuation rules for your language. Do not copy English punctuation directly. Very often, punctuation in your language will differ. Mistakes in punctuation often distract the viewer and can even change the meaning of the subtitle. Note that you can end the subtitle in a comma or a period.

Line length

When you are done, watch the talk without the sound on. This will force you to focus on reading and seeing how fast or easily you can read the subtitles. Bear in mind that the subtitles we create should be useful for any kind of viewer, including people who do not know any English. It may seem easier for you to read the subtitles because you can follow the original, and watching without the sound on also helps with this. If you fail to read a line twice then you should probably shorten it (another tip: make sure you can read the line and still have time to look at the video). This is very important because other people do not know the text like you do, and may not read as fast as you do, so they will need more time.

Ways to shorten the subtitle

  • Remove fluff which does not add to the meaning, for example: Err, Well, very, Anyway,...
  • Remove repetitions. If something is obvious from the context then there is no need to say it.
  • Break the lines/end the subtitles differently: move part of the subtitle to the next or previous subtitle that displays for a longer time but is shorter in the original. More about line-breaking here. Note: be careful not to move anything around if the item you are moving refers to something on the screen (e.g. to a slide that pops up as the subtitle appears on the screen). In such cases, you should keep the subtitles synchronized with what happens in the video.
  • If you can't compress a line to read easy in the time it's on the screen, merge (copy and paste) two subtitles into one and paste it as two consecutive subtitles. In the TED player, they will display as one line without blinking.
  • Find shorter synonyms or find a more common, thus easier to process, synonym.

More tips here.

Literal translation

Do not translate literally. Think: Would a native speaker of my language say it like I just wrote it, or would they use a different phrase to explain the same meaning? Does it sound natural? Make sure not to mimic English word order.

Line breaks

Learn how to break lines and end subtitles correctly, using this guide.

Rule of thumb: If a line could be used as an answer to a question on its own, then it is good. Sometimes, you can move part of the subtitle (e.g. a dangling article at the end) to the next one.

Language-specific errors

Navigate to your language in the sidebar of this page and see if there is a list of common errors available. If not, search online for a guide to the most common errors in your language. You can then create a "Useful links" OTPedia page in your language and add the resources that you have found.


Think: What does the speaker mean? Is the message clear? Do I understand? Could I explain it myself? If there is anything unclear in the original (like an idiom), never guess the meaning. Research online and ask around until you are confident that you know what the speaker meant.

Specialized vocabulary

Do your research. Proper names and terminology are very rarely translated in a straightforward way. The easiest way to do it is to check the term in English Wikipedia and then navigate to your language (e.g. to find the translation of "porcupine," go to the article on porcupines in English and then navigate to your language's version). You can also try the KudoZ term archive, and ask a new question if you can't find anything in the available answers. Also remember that proper names (of people or places) may not be spelled the same way in your language as they are in English (for example, Istanbul in English, but Estambul in Spanish). Finally, make sure to research unfamiliar names of people to find out what gender they are (to properly refer to them using pronouns like "he/she" and other gender-based grammatical features of your language). To learn more about searching for terms, watch this video.

Units of measurement

To convey the meaning and sense of scale, convert units to ones commonly used in your culture (e.g. miles to kilometers). Be careful not to mix up the names of numbers (like "billion" - more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_and_short_scales) and use the correct character for the decimal point (a comma or a period, depending on the rules in your language).

Culture-specific items

Jokes, names of products, companies, famous people etc. Make them easily understood for your audience by either explaining them. For example, if Mr. Smith is recognized as a businessman in the USA because of a cartoon he was in, in your translation, instead of using just the name, you may describe him as "Mr Smith, a businessman." If the speaker is using the proper name as only an example of a category of things, in your translation, you can refer to the general category only, and skip the proper name (e.g. when the speaker says "Wendy's," in some contexts it may better to translate that as "a fast food chain"). Jokes and puns should still be funny, even if you have to achieve it by changing them a bit. You don't want the audience to wonder why everyone is laughing.

Sound information

Make sure that the sound information for the Deaf/hard-of-hearing, like (Applause) or (Music), is included in the translation. Look at a few other talks to see the most common way people translate those items in your language (so that there is one translation of (Applause) in all the talks, not three different synonyms).


While reviewing, if the change you want to make is preferential and the original translation is just as good, you should not change it to your preference. You can contact the translator about it and explain the reasons for the change you want to suggest. If there are two things that are both correct, and you can't agree, try to agree on the best version using outside resources:

  • Google search engine - Search for both of your versions and see which one returns more results in the meaning you need. For example, google the phrases "study for an exam" & "study to an exam", to see which one is more common (although this doesn't always mean more correct). It works for checking grammar, spelling and vocabulary.
  • Collocation dictionaries in your language (a collection of text checked by linguists, called a "corpus," that you can search for the way a word or phrase is commonly used in sentences).