Captions — Hit or Miss?

We’ve all seen those captioning bloopers that do the rounds on social media every now and then; and to be fair there are some really funny ones. And, as us deafies are not without a sense of humour, often we’ll see the funny side. But, joking apart, how does it make you feel when the captions are so badly wrong?

Here in the UK, I think we do pretty well for the availability of ‘subtitled television’. (In the UK, the term ‘subtitle’ is more commonly used than the term ‘caption’, despite there being a difference between the definitions.) The BBC is clearly committed to making shows accessible and the other main UK channels tend to also be quite good.

But where all channels come unstuck is with subtitling the news.

The worst I’ve found is Channel 4 news (which is unfortunate for me because it is my preferred news programme). The subtitles are so far behind and so often inaccurate that I do better by just lipreading and listening than by trying to make sense of the subtitles that are so far out of sync.

Caption blooper.

While I appreciate that the news goes out live, I assume that much of it is scripted and read from an autocue and the rest often includes pre-recorded footage, so I have to wonder why each of these sections could not have subtitles that are in sync with the speech. I accept that the in-studio debates will need subtitling live, but what about the rest?

In the UK, we have access to many +1 channels; that is to say, programmes being aired exactly one hour after being screened on the main channel. I feel that there is a great opportunity here for the likes of Channel 4 news to spend that hour getting the subtitles right and in sync for a fully accessible news show on Channel 4 +1. And for them to broadcast the programme from the previous hour but with new, improved subtitles. I for one would rather watch a coherent news show one hour later than struggle to follow the show live.

I notice that on BBC News 24, their pre-recorded news stories often do have pre-loaded subtitles and the show only reverts to live subtitles when they cut back to the studio — and even then, they seem in sync with the autocue. It would be great to see other news shows follow suit.

In this online community, we’re all about sharing so, please tell us: What are your experiences of subtitling where you live? What’s the most confusing or funniest blooper you’ve seen on a subtitle? How does it make you feel when the subtitles have lots of errors?

One thought on “Captions — Hit or Miss?”

  1. I never thought that subtitles or captions would become that important for me. I live in Austria, my mother tongue is German and I don’t have TV but love to watch videos – preferably in original version – which has become a real hobby of mine. Very early on, when I started to have difficulties understanding the dialogues, I used the (mostly available) German captions on DVDs of foreign movies. After a while I realised that it was tiring to switch between the languages all the time (because with my hearing aid and a 5.1 sound system, I could still understand a good part of what was said on the screen). Furthermore, especially with captions, there often is a surprisingly big difference between what is said and what is written – probably because the captions reflect the dubbed version which often is different as it has to take lip movements into account. (But that is not the whole truth; I saw German movies with German captions which were useless because they didn’t have a lot to do with the spoken dialogue.)
    Anyway, I began watching videos in original (mostly English) version with English captions or subtitles – now my preferred way of watching movies (apart from those in languages that I don’t understand, like Cantonese; here I prefer German, of course.).
    Unfortunately, the videos available on the German speaking market do not always have captions or subtitles for the original version. In this cases I tend to import the disks; a dubbed version is not important for me as I don’t watch it anyway. Another difficulty is, that in many Internet marketplaces, the information about subtitles or captions is either missing or wrong…

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