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What Are Forced Subtitles in Video Translation – How it’s Useful

Forced subtitles are time-synchronized texts that are overlaid onto a series, movie, or any video content. They appear on screen when a character speaks a foreign or “invented” language, and if there is a need to explain to the viewers the setting, sign, date, etc. You’d probably encountered them when you watched Game of Thrones that featured several fictional languages like Valyrian, Dothraki, and sci-fi movies with alien characters speaking their language. 

What Makes Them Useful?

In some cases, the audio is not useful enough to explain the setting, time, dialogue, textual graphics, esoteric sign pictures, etc. Hence, some scenes need forced subtitles in order to give you a seamless viewing experience.

But to ensure a seamless viewing experience, video subtitle service providers must ensure that their forced subtitles are precisely time-synchronized, i.e., they are overlaid onto the exact scenes that need “textual explanation.”

Also, forced subtitles should not visually overlap with the closed caption subtitles, which are created for audience who cannot hear the audio and need text description that includes not just for the dialogue but also for the non-vocal audio (e.g., thunder and keys jingling) that is relevant to the scene.

Different Uses of Forced Subtitles

1. Labeling of Location, Date

This type of hard-coded subtitle is commonly used to label fictional place, year/date/time, and location. Also, this on-screen label is helpful when a video includes foreign languages. 

2. Written content in a foreign language

If a character is reading a letter or newspaper in a foreign language, or if there is a street sign or imagery that is relevant to the storyline, forced subtitles can help you follow the plot. 

3. Dialogue content in a foreign language (in an English-language show)

Forced subtitles are a great way to capture the character’s background and history (as opposed to dubbing it, which more often than not ends up giving an awkward, cringe-worthy result).x

4. Dialogue in a fictional language

Some movies and series have created their own fictional language to contribute to the story line and give a more exotic feel to the scene. This is where forced subtitles become an integral part of a show. 

5. Inaudible audio

This type of subtitling translation must be overlaid onto a screen when the normal dialogue is distorted or barely audible due to background noises or poor audio quality. For example, an interview conducted amidst a rowdy crowd, a fight scene or any chaotic scene, a weather reporter talking amidst a heavy downpour, etc.

6. Textual Elements

Forced subtitles are needed when there are textual elements that you must see to understand the storyline. For example, a character is texting on her mobile phone, or typing on her computer, or reading Egyptian hieroglyphs. 


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