JBI Studios' Blog on Voice-Over, Dubbing, and Multimedia Localization.

3 Tips for Subtitles Translation into Right-to-Left Languages

Subtitling into right-to-left languages like Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, Dari and Urdu is one of the harder tasks in video translation. It’s gotten better in recent years, with Unicode and robust language support, which has made localization into these languages much more reliable and straight-forward. But issues can still pop up.

This blog post will list 3 crucial tips that any multimedia localization specialist must know when subtitling into right-to-left languages.

[Average read time: 4 minutes]

Right-to-left languages add challenges to a subtitle workflow

In fact, right-to-left languages add challenges to all text-based localization, be it corporate or government documents, e-Learning courses, marketing copy, or anything else that’s written. In part this is because the left-to-right flow is so ingrained into everything we do that it’s hard to avoid using it strongly in layouts or multimedia flows, which may then need to be changed out in right-to-left localized versions. Because video subtitling services deal with text in the final product as well (as opposed to voice-over or audio localization services), they’re vulnerable to similar issues.


Following is what multimedia translation professionals need to do to ensure project success.

1. Test the subs translation workflow.

Most subs translation workflows require the text to go through many file format conversions, on various platforms, and on various computers. Most subs files, in fact, go through at least three conversions, and get viewed by three vendors, as well as several clients, some of whom may not have ideal language support enabled on their computers. Some workflows may even include a pass through Word – if any of the clients has left auto-correct on, or re-set the language locale of the right-to-left text, or even the direction, this can be a huge problem. Or, worse yet, some workflows or even programs (older ones, mostly) don’t support right-to-left languages at all. This means that the translated text can get garbled, sometimes in ways that are easy to spot, and sometimes in ways that only a native reader can catch easily.

Therefore, it’s crucial to test the subtitles translation workflow, from end to end, with at least a few lines. That means running an bit of English text through the full translation process, and integrating to video. It doesn’t have to be your content, exactly – any old English time-coded file that fits your specs can be used. You don’t even have to translate it, per sé – you can just copy sample text in the target language, though make sure that it’s from a QA’d publication or text. JBI, of course, has a proprietary workflow that’s been tested for right-to-left languages, as well as for Asian double-byte languages (Traditional & Simplified Chinese, Korean and Japanese), as well as languages with unique scripts, like Hindi and Thai.

2. Be extra careful with left-to-right text inside the captions.

This is especially true for corporate and e-Learning content, which often includes English-language proper names, and sometimes even longer strings, like full street addresses. Because the text has to switch directionality for that Latin script, then revert back to right-to-left, this is usually where text issues can pop up – we’ve seen everything from right-to-left periods re-setting, to Arabic characters getting placed inside English-language text. Ask your linguists and QA reviewers to pay special attention to these spots, and if possible, avoid breaking caption lines inside longer left-to-right phrases – this will help readability as well.

3. QA the final titles implementation, especially for text deliverables.

Finally, don’t assume your workflow will be error-free. Even tested workflows are vulnerable to human error, which is why QA is what ultimately makes a workflow worthwhile. It’s a part of JBI’s subtitling workflow, of course. The QA reviewers must watch the video with the subtitles implemented in their final form, trying to mimic the user experience as much as possible. If the subs will be added as an SRT on YouTube, make sure your reviewers are watching them as an SRT on YouTube, during the initial review as well as after any bug fixes.

Bonus tip: Use text/graphic files

Text & graphics subtitle deliverables are excellent for these languages because they lock text in, meaning that users don’t have to worry about character corruption or reflow issues. For more information on them, check out our blog post, Video Translation 101: What are text & graphics subtitle deliverables? Unfortunately, not all platforms can take them, and that includes many streaming options – but it’s worthwhile asking for these languages. And of course, what really makes for a smooth subtitles localization project is planning ahead of time – finding out the final implementation platform before starting the quoting process, testing it, and developing specific workflow specs. As with all localization, thorough prep – as early as possible within the project development – is the best way to keep costs low and timelines short.

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