Working by the word or by the minute? Assessing audiovisual localisation

Christina Sommerlund works as an Account Manager for our Retail, Marketing, Travel and IT clients here at Capita TI. Christina talks to us about how her opinions have changed over the years when it comes to the cultural context of the language industry.

Despite holding a degree in languages, I ended up in the translation industry purely by coincidence. While working as a journalist for a local business magazine in Beirut, I supplemented my income by creating subtitles in my native language. Upon my return to London I became an in-house subtitler, for the same company, and then quickly moved on to client management. Four years later – I am now working for Capita TI – still in the language industry; but with a completely different culture and mind-set when it comes to assessing projects.

From minutes to words

Where I used to calculate and assess everything by the minute, suddenly everything was now evaluated by the word.

This became particularly apparent during a conversation with an American client, who wanted a quotation for a subtitling project. Whilst a ‘by the minute’ quotation seemed perfectly logical to me, she required a thorough explanation of this process before she fully understood.

Subtitles and audiovisual localisation

Essentially, I realised that the language business is even more complex than I had originally thought – it’s not just the many geographies covered and areas of content that make the field so tricky. Cultural influences have to be taken into account, and can be of paramount importance.

Being a Dane and therefore from a small nation with a limited broadcast and film production, I grew up with subtitles as a common part of watching TV, and have therefore come to view them as a part of everyday life.

In stark contrast, the vast majority of English speaking cultures see subtitles as something quite foreign, to the extent of seeing them as interfering with their viewing experience. What’s more – many people have only recently (in particular with the advent of the Nordic Noir) been subjected to the rather alien presence of subtitles.

Knowing your end user

This focuses on the importance of assessing a project (be it written or AV material) and fully understanding the cultural impact it may have on the end-user. This not only highlights the constant presence of culture in this particular line of business, but also the ability of our industry to facilitate a better cross-cultural exposure and, hopefully, understanding.

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