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How Subtitles and Closed Captions Differ

How Subtitles and Closed Captions Differ

We’ve all heard the words ‘closed captions’ and ‘subtitles’, but most people who refer to these two words think they are one and the same. But did you know that there are distinct differences between these two varieties of onscreen text? Captions are primarily added to a video to help viewer’s who are deaf or hard of hearing understand the video. Subtitles on the other hand are there primarily for those that can hear the video but do not speak the source language. 

In today’s post we’re looking at how subtitles and closed captions differ and where each type of onscreen text should be used. 

What Are Subtitles? 

In short, subtitles are there so that foreign speaking audiences can understand the film or video they are watching even if they do not speak the source language. Subtitles have been for around a really long time, since the earliest films in 1909 to be exact, when they were used for silent films. It wasn’t until the late 1920s when sound was introduced to films which allowed the viewers to hear the actors, and subtitles no longer came as standard.By this time, however, cinema had become an international phenomenon and it was only natural that producers wanted to make the same films in different languages. However re-filming entire productions in different languages proved to be very expensive.

This is where subtitles came, in as we know them today. Subtitles allowed viewers who could not understand the language to follow along and read the text of the film. Subtitles assume the viewer can hear but cannot understand the spoken language. In most cases subtitles are not a substitute for closed captions, as they assume the viewer can hear, just not understand the language. 

What Are Closed Captions?

Closed captions were introduced in the 1970s to help deaf and hard of hearing viewers understand the T.V shows. When Captions were first introduced they were all open captions; meaning that viewer’s did not have a choice but to have the captions displayed on the video as they were part of the video itself. Closed captions were later developed which allowed viewers to choose whether or not to have the captions displayed. Today, close captions come in two flavours, open captions or closed captions. Closed captions are used in everything from Hollywood films to low budget made-for-TV movies. However, where the’re really proving useful to the audience at large is on video streaming sites like YouTube, Vimeo and Hulu. 

Captions are designed to ensure that deaf or hard of hearing people are able to understand the context of the video without being able to hear it. For instance; closed captions are used to display background noises which would not be visible in a video but allow people with hearing impairment to understand what is going on without the full ability to listen to it. Closed captions that seek to indicate background activities are also notably displayed within brackets, capital letters or sometimes italics.

Whilst subtitles are typically used for translation, closed caption translation can and should also be used as much as possible for foreign deaf and hard of hearing audiences. 

Learn how to add your own subtitles to YouTube videos

So, if you have ever wondered how subtitles and closed captions differ, now you know. If you would like more information on subtitling your foreign videos or closed captioning your social media videos contact us today.

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