Subtitling vs. Closed Captioning, what suits Korean Media?

Subtitling or closed captioning – most video content nowadays has either one of these, but what is the difference and which one is better? Originally, closed captions (CC) were used to reach the audience that is deaf or hard of hearing. Subtitling on the other hand is the most common audiovisual translation. Subtitling has had a positive impact across the globe, breaking the language barrier and enabling people of different languages to enjoy the same movies, TV shows, video games, books and a variety of other media, including communication. And even video captions can be seen everywhere nowadays, just go to your Facebook or TikTok and you will quickly realize how every video has them, another big example is YouTube closed captioning. Let’s talk more about subtitling, closed captioning and what would suit Korean movies and TV shows.

Subtitling vs. Closed Captioning

A question that many are asking. Is it not the same? How are they different? The answer is rather simple. Subtitles can include dialogue, narration and on-screen text, meanwhile, CC has this and a lot more, making sure that you understand what is happening even without audio. This means sound effects and background noises such as explosions, cars honking, someone laughing or music playing. The names of the speakers are also important, is it the narrator, or the main character? It is important to be able to provide as much information as possible as to what is happening on the screen.

Something that can be seen when watching Korean movies is closed captions that notify the viewer of the speaker’s accent, emphasizing certain words to better convey the speaker’s emotions. And one of the most important factors when talking about the Korean language – is the speaker being formal or casual. This can help the audience understand the characters even better.

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The Process of Subtitling and CC

Creating the subtitles and CC is not a simple process. There are standardized guidelines that are to be followed by trained professionals. However, you can split it into a few different steps as follows:
Subtitling for Korean media, Closed captioning for Korean media

  1. Spotting – this step revolves around marking the entrance and exit times of the subtitles and making sure they are perfectly synchronized with the audio. How long will they stay and when will they disappear? This requires excellent precision and timing.
  2. Translation and Localization – that is right, simple subtitling translation is usually not enough. One has to have in mind how long the character is going to speak and adjust the text accordingly. 
  3. Adjustment – any timings that do not correspond to what is happening on the screen are to be adjusted.
  4. Testing – and finally the test phase, where final tweaks and fixes could be applied wherever necessary.

The perfect final product is the one where the subtitles are synchronized with flawless accuracy and the translation is natural, enabling the viewer to plunge themselves into the story. Grammar and timing mistakes can often break the immersion.

Korean Media Is Full Of Subtitles and CC

If you watch any Korean media, be it movies, music videos, or even national television, you will see that subtitles are everywhere. There are many reasons for subtitling, and it seems it has become culturally acceptable. I am sure Koreans themselves do not even realize it, but to a foreigner, it might be a shock at first. So what are the reasons?

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Dialects are a big reason. Something that they do in China in Japan for the very same reason. Maybe not everyone understands the speaker due to their dialect and they do not have to. Avoiding ambiguity and misunderstanding is the best way to ensure no one is misinterpreting what is happening. It is also the best way to avoid offending people.

We already mentioned that closed captions are perfect for the deaf or those hard of hearing. However, you can have perfect hearing and still need CC. Maybe you are on the subway and you forgot your headphones, maybe you are at home and your whole family is making a racket and you can’t hear a thing. The reasons can be many, and all of them are quickly resolved by simply adding subtitling or closed captions to your media.

And finally, when speaking of Korean movies and TV shows, you gotta have closed captions to notify the viewer of formal and casual speaking. The Korean language has multiple politeness levels which cannot be translated into English, which is where subtitling is not enough. This will provide the viewers with much-needed context and information about the relationship of the speakers. Their age difference, social status, maybe they are just being rude, all of this can be easily omitted from subtitling and as such you are not delivering the full product to your audience!

Closed Captions Have Become Part of Korean Culture

It is culturally appropriate to include subtitles or even closed captions in your Korean media. In fact, the same can be said for Chinese and Japanese for similar reasons. At this point, it’s even expected. Not only is it the best way to reach as wide of an audience as possible, but you are also ensuring no one is misinterpreting the content and even getting offended. So next time you are wondering between subtitling and CC make sure to consult yourself with professionals, as not only they will be aware of what is appropriate for your content, but they will also know all other intricacies, such as spotting, adjustment and file formatting.

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