Adding Spanish Subtitles – Understanding the Sensitivities

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adding Spanish subtitles

Why come to a professional subtitling company like Knockhundred? Because we understand the potential sensitivity of adding Spanish subtitles to footage where the language spoken is already in Spanish.

This of course doesn’t only apply to Spanish, but more generally to any language where there are variations in accents and pronunciation between countries and within regions inside the same countries.

A famous example where this all went wrong was Alfonso Cuarón’s Spanish-language film, Roma, which was subtitled by Netflix for Spanish audiences. The decision was made to provide Spanish subtitles on a film already in Spanish, not as an extra accessibility feature for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing, but the film’s distributors in Spain feared that local audiences wouldn’t understand the cultural references and accents of a film featuring Mexican actors.

For the director of the film, Cuarón found the decision to be “ridiculous”, “parochial, “ignorant and offensive”. For him the addition of “European” Spanish subtitles on his “Mexican” Spanish film was in danger of ruining the colour and texture of the dialogue and feel of the film he had created.

Adding Same Language Subtitles

The decision to add same language subtitles, or not, can be a sensitive balancing act and our team of experienced project managers recommend taking the following into account:

  • Understand where the Spanish material was filmed and whether its specific location has a direct bearing on the narrative of the material.
  • Discuss whether the Spanish subtitles should be localised in terms of country or region-specific references and idioms, or whether the Spanish speech should be faithfully reproduced, word-for-word.
  • If adding subtitles for accessibility reasons (for the Deaf and hard-of hearing) consider using non-geographical Spanish rather than only “Castilian” that would be more precisely targeted for the European market. Or vice-versa.
  • If the majority of the film contains speech in one Spanish accent and small parts in another, subtitle the entire footage. Do not assume that some dialogue is more intelligible than other parts.

The risk, according to Ingrid Piller, a Professor of Applied Linguistics at Sydney’s MacQuarie University, is that choosing to subtitle can on occasion seem more like “a matter of ideology and identity” than “intelligibility”. You can read more about it here. Clearly the majority of subtitling decisions are made with the best intentions and retrospect is a great thing.

Given that Spanish is spoken by about 500,000,000 people as a first language worldwide over 21 countries, it is hardly surprising that the debate rages on regarding best practices on subtitling and captioning.

Striking a Balance – When Adding Spanish Subtitles is Desirable or Necessary

You may want to visit our page dedicated to our Spanish subtitling services to find out how our team of knowledgeable project managers and talented linguists can help you strike the right balance.

Do you need translations? Get in touch.

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