Back in February I managed to escape to London for the day to attend an advanced subtitling course given by Adriana Tortoriello at CenTraS (Centre for Translation Studies) at the UCL (University College London). Imagining I wouldn’t know anyone except Adriana, I was surprised to see that I’d sat down next to a fellow ITI Wessex member, Gina. We’d only met once before, but it was great to have someone to talk to, especially during the exercises that came later as some were none too easy.
Gina had done a subtitling course before (although not at UCL), and written about her experience for the ITI Bulletin. Although previous knowledge was not compulsory, I had expressed my concern about turning up without any clue of the basics. I needn’t have worried, however, as quite a few attendees hadn’t taken the introductory course either. In some ways, as I have discussed with Adriana, this was a pity because it meant more time was spent on the introduction and easier work than might otherwise have been necessary. Since this was billed as the advanced course, we could perhaps have been given the introductory notes Adriana went over at the beginning of the day to study for homework in advance.
Adriana packed a lot into six hours
Six hours might seem like quite a long time, but Adriana had a lot to pack into the day. We all had access to a UCL computer with the subtitling software (WinCAPS) and Adriana and her assistant helped us with the exercises she set us. I’m not in any way going to attempt to give you a low down of the course here, but these basically consisted of translating from a template (i.e. the dialogue has been written out for you already) or origination (which is when you have to listen to the dialogue, write down what they are saying and/or translate directly and format the whole thing).
Translating from a template isn’t much different to normal translation and was, therefore, quite easy to grasp. I found origination incredibly difficult, however, especially as we got around to this part of the course quite late in the day when the overwarm room and early morning start to get up to London were beginning to take their toll on my brain. If I hadn’t had the foresight to bring my own sandwiches (UCL didn’t ask about or cater for my vegan diet), I would have found it virtually impossible to benefit from much in the afternoon.
Subtitling software is expensive
I had been seriously contemplating adding audiovisual translation to my skillset before I went on the course and it was eye-opening to see how hard and time-consuming it can be. There’s a good reason why some MAs specialise in audiovisual translation: to be good at it, especially origination, you really need lots of practice. Buying the software is another expensive consideration. WinCAPS Q4 currently costs £390 per year plus VAT (seven-day free trial), but it’s obviously not the only program available. One agency I occasionally work for recommends its subtitlers use EZTitles (30-day trial), whose latest software version costs nearly £2000 (there are rental options).
Subtitling doesn’t generally pay well
And then there’s the rates issue. Subtitling is charged by the minute and as there’s such a huge difference between origination and translating a template, you need to ask for almost double for the former. But apparently, this type of translation doesn’t generally pay well. “Wish I’d known that before I signed up for the course,” I joked on the day. But in all seriousness, this, especially considering the price of the software, is one of the main reasons why I probably won’t be dabbling in subtitling any further.
Although I discovered that subtitling was not for me, the course was still worth doing (and not just for the CPD points that count towards my annual ITI total!). Adriana was helpful, engaging and certainly knows her subject inside out. I learn something every time I get together with colleagues and discuss how to translate a word or phrase. I met and remet some great people and thoroughly enjoyed our interactions. And most importantly, I gained some insight into a side of translation that I had been rather ignorant of and the experience reinforced my view that the more I learn about our profession, the more I realise how hard it can be and how much there is to learn.
My only recommendation is that UCL ensures there is a marked difference between the two subtitling courses it offers. Making attendance at an introductory course mandatory might perhaps be a step too far. But at the very least advanced course attendees should be expected to do some studying of (or brushing up on) the theory before the day so that more time can be spent on the practical side of subtitling, especially origination, which I felt was rather rushed at the end of a long day.