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The problem with subtitles in Germany

The problem with subtitles in Germany

In our new series on subtitles, we dive into the growing demand for this service, problems the industry is facing, and how wordinc can provide the solutions. Join us next week for a closer look at the software we use to give you accurate, pitch-perfect subtitles when you need them.

***

Most Germans have seen a movie starring Meryl Streep. But that doesn’t mean most Germans would recognize her voice. Sure, they might know Meryl Streep’s singing from Mamma Mia! But besides that, when Germans see Streep on the big or small screen, they’re actually hearing dubbing artist Dagmar Dempe. That is because Germany traditionally dubs international films and series. Many countries in Europe and even around the world do it differently: They broadcast movies and shows in the original language and provide subtitles in the local language. Such subtitles can have two functions:

  • Translating foreign languages
  • Aiding the hearing impaired

Subtitles first gained mass relevance in Germany as special features on DVDs and Blu-ray discs or, most recently, with video streaming. Subtitles for the hearing impaired, though, have long been an established service. The audience for this is probably larger than you think: At the turn of the millennium alone, more than a million Germans were hearing impaired to the point of deafness. A lack of subtitles would exclude them and others from key cultural touchstones.

For them, subtitles also have to convey more than just the spoken word. Tonality in conversation, the different speakers behind the words, and dramaturgical music or sound effects must be indicated to complete their viewing experience. That is what makes this form of subtitling particularly challenging. Ordinary subtitles for translation must, of course, meet quality standards as well - but the viewer complaints are piling up.

The subtitle boom: more money, more problems

Netflix has dominated video streaming worldwide for years. Over 200 million people currently use the service worldwide - roughly twice as many as the second-place contender, Amazon Prime Video. During the pandemic, Netflix added over 37 million new subscribers in 2020 alone, and each of them averaged a whopping 3.2 hours of Netflix a day.

German-language dubbing, though, is only available for major movies and series. Many smaller titles or non-English-language formats are streamed exclusively with subtitles, and even for the top series, some episodes could only manage simple subtitles due to lockdown and distancing restrictions.

The results have been suboptimal.

Internet forums abound with new complaints each day about the poor subtitling offered by Netflix, Amazon and their competitors. For English-language media, viewers usually have a good command of both the original and target languages and immediately recognize sloppy work. The examples they send off to the provider show truly gruesome translations that barely fit the context of scene. Even less developed machine translations (MT) deliver a better level of quality.

So what exactly is the problem?

Unfortunately, we can’t say for sure. Plenty of theories are making their rounds on the web, but we won’t report them here as they are currently unverified.

What we can report with certainty is this: If you are looking for high-quality subtitling or professional translation for your productions, wordinc is here for you. We have the perfect pair of cutting-edge technology and experienced professionals that can deliver accurate, on-point subtitles as soon as you need them.

Start reaching a wider audience today: Get a non-binding quote for subtitling services or arrange an appointment for personal consultation.

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