A question that we get often is, what is the difference between subtitles and captions?
Subtitles and captions are two types of text overlays that are used to provide viewers with a written version of the audio in videos. Though they may seem similar (and, indeed, the terms are often used interchangeably) there are some key differences between subtitles and captions that make them better suited for different applications.
What are Subtitles?
Subtitles are written translations of dialogue in a video for viewers who do not speak the language being spoken. For example, if a movie in French is shown to an English-speaking audience, the subtitles will display the English translation of the French dialogue. Subtitles are most commonly used in movies, TV shows, and other types of entertainment videos.
Subtitles can be either open or closed. Open subtitles are burned into the video itself and cannot be turned off by the viewer, while closed subtitles can be turned on or off as desired.
What are Captions?
Captions, on the other hand, are text overlays that provide a written version of the audio for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captions not only include dialogue, but also nonspeech sounds such as music and sound effects. Captions are used in a variety of videos, including educational, instructional, promotional, and entertainment videos.
Like subtitles, captions can also be either open or closed. Open captions are permanently displayed on the video and cannot be turned off, while closed captions can be turned on or off.
Differences between Subtitles and Captions
Now that we have defined subtitles and captions, let's take a closer look at the differences between the two.
The primary purpose of subtitles is to provide translations of the dialogue in a video for viewers who do not speak the language being spoken. On the other hand, the primary purpose of captions is to provide a written version of the audio for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Subtitles typically only include dialogue and do not include nonspeech sounds such as music and sound effects. Captions, on the other hand, include both dialogue and nonspeech sounds. This can include important background sounds, music, and sounds like laughter and applause. Captions can also capture the tone of the speaker or any other further information about their voice that may be important for the viewer to know.
Subtitles are often displayed at the bottom of the screen, while captions can be displayed anywhere on the screen. Additionally, subtitles are typically larger and bolder than captions to make them more visible.
Subtitles are typically used for translations between different languages. Captions, on the other hand, are usually in the same language as the video, but provide a written version of the audio for viewers who cannot hear it.
Which is Better - Subtitles or Captions?
The answer to this question depends on the purpose of the video and the needs of the viewers. If the video is in a language that is not understood by the viewers, subtitles are the better option. If the video is in the same language as the viewers, but some viewers are deaf or hard of hearing, captions are the better option.
It's also worth noting that captions can benefit all viewers, not just those who are deaf or hard of hearing. More and more people are using captions for everything. I personally count myself among that crowd. It gets tiring asking or answering, "What did he/she/they say?" every couple of minutes. And besides, during casual, relaxed viewing, it's crazy how much sly background commentary you can miss on a show! Captions help to improve understanding not only of entertainment programming but of all content, including, but certainly not limited to, educational and complex technical content.
Additionally, subtitles and captions can also have different legal requirements. For example, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States, public accommodations, including educational institutions, are required to provide "effective communication" to individuals with disabilities. This may include providing closed captions for videos in educational settings.
Furthermore, some countries have specific regulations regarding the use of subtitles and captions. For example, in France, all TV programs and films must include subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, while in the UK, broadcast television must include both subtitles and captions.
When it comes to creating subtitles and captions, there are also some key differences in the process. Subtitles are typically created by translators who work to accurately translate the dialogue from one language to another. Captions, on the other hand, are created by skilled writers who are familiar with the conventions and formatting of captions, as well as the rules for captioning nonspeech sounds.
Creating high-quality captions requires attention to detail and a deep understanding of the needs of viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captions must accurately reflect the spoken content of the video, while also being timed appropriately and using proper punctuation and formatting. Moreover, captions must be clear and easy to read, without detracting from the viewing experience.
In contrast, creating subtitles requires a strong understanding of the nuances of different languages and cultures, as well as the ability to accurately convey dialogue and meaning. Translators must be skilled in both the source and target languages, as well as be familiar with the cultural context and idiomatic expressions used in the video.
In summary, while subtitles and captions may seem similar, they serve different purposes and are better suited for different applications. Subtitles are used for translations of dialogue, while captions provide a written version of the audio for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. When deciding which to use, it's important to consider the purpose of the video and the needs of the viewers. Creating high-quality captions and subtitles requires different skill sets and expertise, but both are important for ensuring accessibility and inclusion in videos.