• Sijin Xian

Branching out to Subtitle Translation

Here's what you need to know about me: I love TV! I enjoy late night talk shows, twisty Shonda Rhimes dramas, and all sorts of Chinese variety shows. I watch TV to relax and to keep abreast of both my working languages. In the spirit of doing what you love, I had always thought I would enjoy subtitling. I'd get to watch shows, do translations, and earn money, three things I'm very fond of.

About two years ago, I went to a subtitling lecture out of curiosity and saw a live demonstration of the subtitling process. I remember coming home feeling super intimidated by all the non-translation parts involved: timing, frames, word limit, a strange-looking interface--all very foreign to me. Subsequently, I put my entertainment subtitling desire on the back burner, leaving it to simmer as I bided my time.

Then last month, I got an email from a subtitling company regarding an amazing opportunity to do subtitling work for a leading entertainment company. I thought, if I'm ever going to try my hand at subtitling, a high-profile client is the way to go! The effort of learning and perfecting a new skill will be nicely rewarded. So I studied up, asked a ton of questions, passed the entry exam, asked more questions, and completed my first project yesterday!

My takeaways so far: 1. Practice makes perfect. As I mentioned earlier, subtitling involves more than translating. The variety of things to look out for and pay attention to slowed me down significantly yesterday. Immediately afterwards I designed a workflow for myself so that I can focus on one aspect at a time and increase overall productivity. I can't wait to work on my second project to test it out and constantly make improvements.

2. The flow state. While I worked at snail speed yesterday, I enjoyed every minute of it. If you are familiar with the concept of flow, you probably know that it's typically achieved when working on something that is highly challenging and requires advanced skills. I tend to experience flow when I translate research reports with complex sentences, marketing materials requiring creative adaptations, and official documents demanding absolute accuracy. And that's precisely why these are the translation projects I mostly take on. With its demands in multitasking, subtitling is a welcome addition to my repertoire.

3. Exposure to new concepts. As a translator, I'm very specific about what kind of projects I do not take on: specialized legal, medical, chemical, engineering, and technology translations. The nice thing about shows is that there's a bit of everything. Just working on one short video yesterday opened my eyes to some very interesting snippets of knowledge. If you like trivia and are a visual learner like me, I think you will find it very rewarding.

I'm really excited about this new endeavor, and I'm sure I will have a lot of new thoughts on the craft to write about in the near future.



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