Top 10 Challenges (and Solutions) Faced by Subtitlers

Subtitles do more than translate; they globalize and universalize video content. Yet, subtitling has its challenges. Let’s explore these hurdles and how to overcome them for standout videos.
Oct 1 / Maria Virgínia Barros
Subtitles go much further than just translating languages. They provide video content to audiences across the globe and make it accessible to everyone.

However, creating subtitles presents its own unique challenges. Here are the most common obstacles subtitlers face and solutions to make sure your videos shine.

1. Capture the essence quickly and accurately

Subtitles live in a fast-paced world. They need to be both concise and thorough to convey the entire message.

Imagine a speaker talking in a fast-paced interview. The subtitles should match the speaker's speech while capturing the main points of their explanation.

Solution: Subtitlers are both experts in language and experts in condensation. This delicate balance can be achieved with industry knowledge and the right technical tools.

2. Making the most of limited space

Subtitlers are responsible for breaking down a lengthy narrative into manageable segments.

Occasionally, a character has a long monologue in a movie's dramatic scene. The subtitler must cut up the monologue into manageable chunks that convey the characters' emotions while still fitting into the limited screen space.

Solution: Prioritizing key information is crucial. Clear and concise phrasing ensures the message is conveyed without sacrificing meaning.

3. Keep up with the viewer's reading speed

The average person reads about 238 words per minute, and subtitles adjust to the viewer's reading pace.

Sometimes, a news story features a reporter talking quickly about the current events. The subtitler needs to make sure that the sentences are short and easy to read, so viewers can keep up with the information being presented.

Solution: The length of sentences should match the audience's reading speed. The process of dividing lengthy sentences into smaller segments enhances viewer engagement.

4. Subtitles are always in the spotlight

Subtitles, unlike translation, are constantly visible. Viewers can detect errors quickly.

Think of a documentary about a historical figure. Any mistakes in the subtitles, such as misspelling the person's name or capturing their words incorrectly, could be picked up by viewers.

Solution: Subtitling software often includes spell-checking tools. Furthermore, it is essential to double-check information like dates and names to ensure that everything is clear.

5. Subtitles must keep up with the video's speed

Imagine a situation where the subtitles do not match the speaker's words. This is not good.

You are working on a music video and the singer is rapping fast. To avoid viewers getting confused about what words are being sung, the subtitles need to appear and disappear in sync with the rapping.

Solution: Subtitles must match the speaker's speech and the action on the screen. They appear when the speaker starts to talk and disappear after the speech ends.

6. Synchronicity is a key factor

Subtitles that appear out of sync can be disruptive and distracting.

Imagine watching a movie where the subtitles appear before the actor starts talking and stay on the screen after he finishes. This constant delay would make it difficult to keep up with the conversation.

Solution: That's why the timecode is so important. During editing, a thorough review makes sure everything is in sync.

7. Help viewers understand what is unclear

It can be difficult to understand the dialogue because of poor audio quality, strong accents, or technical jargon.

Consider a scenario where a documentary features a speaker with a strong regional accent. Due to the accent, the subtitler might struggle to understand certain words.

Solution: Before beginning their work, subtitlers should watch the video and take notes that may help them decipher it based on image clues. Speech-to-text tools can help. For technical information, it is indispensable to consult a subject-matter expert.

8. Research can be time-consuming

Subtitling complex subject matter may require more detailed research.

For example, you might need to subtitle a medical conference where the speakers discuss new drug research. The subtitler might not be familiar with all the medical terminology used. They would need to research the specific drugs and their mechanisms of action to ensure accurate subtitles, which can be a time-consuming process.

Solution: For videos requiring in-depth research, allocating enough time ensures that subtitlers can deliver high-quality work.

9. Subtitler's lack of technical knowledge

Subtitle software is a very diverse and constantly evolving world. New tools and features are constantly being created.

A subtitler might have trouble navigating new features in subtitle software, which could affect their workflow.

Solution: Continuous learning is the most effective approach for subtitlers to remain ahead of the curve. By investing in training courses, workshops, and exploring new software features, they make sure that they can use the latest advances and deliver great results.

10. Human expertise is a valuable asset

In a world obsessed with AI, it's tempting to prioritize speed and automation over quality.
Imagine watching a comedy show where the humor is mostly wordplay and cultural references. Automated subtitles may not be able to capture the nuances of jokes, leading to a confusing viewing experience. A skilled human subtitler can pick up on these subtleties and translate them in a way that keeps the humor for viewers who don't understand the original language.

Solution: It's important to hire talented human professionals to make your videos stand out. Their expertise ensures that your video subtitles enhance the viewing experience and project a positive image of you or your organization.


Overcoming these challenges turns subtitlers into the silent heroes of engaging videos. Their expertise ensures that technical aspects are not overlooked, while the video content, cultural nuances, humor, and overall tone are preserved.
Want to learn from some of the best world subtitlers? Then do not miss these courses:
Created with