Advancements in the film and TV industry create new hurdles for translators

By Li Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/4/19 19:03:40

Isabella Wolte Photo: Courtesy of the Communication University of China

 

Luis Perez-Gonzalez Photo: Courtesy of the Communication University of China


Millions of viewers in China tuned in to the Academy Awards on February 26 this year to see if their favorite movies and celebrities would win Oscars gold.

Of course, for any broadcast of an English program, Chinese subtitles is a must. But translation is no simple matter.

Dong Haiya knows all this well.

"Jimmy Kimmel's opening monologue at the 89th Academy Awards starts from 5 minutes and goes through to 14 minutes 20 seconds, contains 1,327 words and over 20 jokes," said Dong, an associate professor at Shanghai International Studies University who spoke at the ongoing Sino-Foreign Audiovisual Translation & Dubbing Cooperation Workshop in Beijing.

After thoroughly going over Kimmel's speech numerous times, Dong could repeat every single line of the speech from memory.

This wasn't because Dong is a big Kimmel fan, but because Kimmel's monologue and the Oscars live ceremony posed a great challenge for the translators in China who provided the show with "live subtitles."

Chinese viewers' passion for the Academy Awards has increased dramatically over the past two decades. This rising passion has led to an unnoticed revolution in the translation industry.

Translation of the Oscars has gone through many different stages over the years. In 2002, when Chinese viewers first got to watch the show, the ceremony was an edited version dubbed into Chinese. 

In later years, dubbing was abandoned for the original English version accompanied by Chinese subtitles. But this still meant the show couldn't be shown live. It wasn't until another few years down the line that simultaneous interpretation was adopted by some TV stations so the ceremony could be broadcast live. 

Now the show has moved on to an all new level. Over the past two years, broadcasts of the Oscars in China have adopted "live subtitling."

But all the jokes, slang usage, references to current affairs in the US, countless names of people and films make "live subtitling" no easy task, especially taking into consideration that it leaves translators no time for research.

This is just one of the many emerging challenges that translators of film and TV programs face in a world that technology has made increasingly connected.

Blending in

"When I started in the late [19]90s to train other translators, you learn visual translation because you know that was a specific additional competence," Luis Perez-Gonzalez, a professor of translation studies at the University of Manchester, said when talking with the Global Times about his observations of the changes going on in today's translation field.

"These days, students learn visual translation not because it's something additional, but because it's something basic in the new digital culture."

Perez-Gonzalez numbers among the many experts who have come to China to take part in the ongoing workshop in Beijing. Experts from 21 countries and regions have gathered to discuss how to better improve translation for films and TV contents and further boost exchanges between the film and TV industries of countries around the world.

When it comes to film subtitles, many major studios rely on traditional methods of inserting subtitles directly on the film prints, mostly at the bottom of the screen. Yet recent innovations by passionate fans who create subtitles for films and TV shows imported into China - what experts call fansubs - have inspired the industry.

Some of these fan translators have taken extra steps to ensure their subtitles are aesthetically pleasing by making sure their subtitles blend in with whatever is shown on screen. For instance, making sure the subtitle for a translated billboard is the same color and font as the source characters, or having a hotel's translated name appear on the side of the building, making it appear as if the Chinese name had been there when the scene was filmed.  

"A lot of the changes are emerging in the context of amateur translators, fan groups, activist groups," Perez-Gonzalez said.

"The reason why that can happen outside the industry is because these people haven't been trained to do things according to professional conventions. They have the freedom to be very experimental."

Perez-Gonzalez noted that since many translators who studied languages for years do not necessarily have the technical skills to design subtitles creatively, working with people with these abilities is necessary.

He also pointed out that the changes occurring in the field of translation is very similar to what happened in the journalism industry - workers now have to be multitalented.

Beyond language

As global cultural exchanges increase, translation and dubbing have started to play increasingly key roles in the film and TV industry.

"There is much more that needs to be done than translating," said Isabella Wolte from Austria, the founder of consulting firm China Film Consult, at the workshop.

Wolte has been working for years in China and German-speaking regions as a consultant on film communication.

She recalled once when screening a Chinese film in Austria, she provided an introduction to the background of the film's main character to the audience. After the screening, many in the audience came over to thank her for the additional introduction as it helped them to better understand the film. 

Thinking beyond just the words that need to be translated when working on a film or TV work is something that translators today need to take into consideration, Wolte noted.

She explained that there are many methods to tackle challenges. For example, digital technology enables translators to put notes on an image.

But there are still much more that needs to be done to attract young audiences who are easily distracted and have short attention spans.

"Probably we have to rethink not just subtitling, but also the whole method of production," Wolte said.


Newspaper headline: Digital challenge


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