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How to Add Subtitles to a YouTube Video: A Content Creator’s Guide to Tapping International Audience

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Whether you’re running a business and seeking to use YouTube as part of your marketing strategy, or an individual relying on YouTube as your main source of income, reaching out to foreign-speaking audiences can lead to a step change in your number of likes and subscribes. However, it’s essential to get it right when you court foreign audiences, meaning it’s time to focus on your multilingual subtitles. 

In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in cross-border content. Netflix has led the way when it comes to streaming foreign language films and series. Over on YouTube, the popularity of gaming channels was given a boost during the pandemic. Since then, leading gaming channels such as Maizen have embraced translating their subtitles (many foreign gaming YouTubers routinely subtitle their videos in their native tongue) as well as recording voiceovers for their dialogue. 

When you look at the numbers, the potential quickly becomes apparent. YouTube now has 37 million channels and more than two billion users spread around the planet. That’s a whole heap of people ready to like and subscribe to your beautifully subtitled, multilingual content. Key to your success will be getting your multilingual subtitling right first time. Here’s how. 

Step 1: Understand what subtitling entails 

First up is understanding what subtitling actually is. Subtitles are added to videos for the benefit of viewers who can’t understand the spoken dialogue. They follow that dialogue closely, though they may deliver slightly abbreviated versions of it. 

Subtitling is not the same as closed captioning. Closed captions are intended for those who cannot hear the audio, so the captions include details of noises in the audio (such as a door slamming or a car horn beeping) as well as of the dialogue. 

When it comes to multilingual subtitling, a professional linguist will start by transcribing the original language video content (unless a transcript is already available), then translate it into the target language. Part of the task is to timestamp the transcription so that it is clear which parts of the dialogue match which frames of the video. That is key to getting subtitling right, as it will allow the translator to ensure the foreign language subtitles appear at the right time on the video. 

Step 2: Build a strategy

Which audiences do you want to reach and why? This will steer your choice of languages and also your choice of who will work on your subtitles. It will require some research into potential audiences, engagement levels, appetite for your type of content and more, so it’s time to get to do your homework. 

It’s also time to assess your own priorities in terms of international audiences. Are you simply looking for likes and subscribes or are your YouTube videos part of a wider strategy to get consumers to buy your products or services? Factors like these will shape your international marketing strategy and thus decisions around your multilingual strategy. 

Step 3: Work with the right partners

Delivering subtitles in another language is an undertaking for professional translators. Say you want to reach out to audiences in France. You’ll need to deliver subtitles that sound natural in French and that take account of local cultural nuances. Working with French translation services that deliver documents that are accurate and ready for professional use is key to achieving this. But finding the right translation agency is about more than just language skills, as Ofer Tirosh, founder and CEO of language services provider Tomedes points out:

“If you want a winning international YouTube strategy, you’ll need a translation agency that is experienced at providing video translation and subtitling services. These are specialist translation tasks that demand translators with relevant experience of working with audiovisual content.”

This Turkish to French YouTube video translation is a case in point. The translator time-stamped the translation perfectly, so that the French audio and subtitles would fit with the original Turkish video content precisely. This is key to ensuring video translation and subtitles work flawlessly – which is why experienced translators are so important. 

Step 4: Cost out your budget

What is the average cost for translation services? For subtitle translation, bear in mind that you are paying for the transcription element of the service as well as the translation, which will impact the average cost. The actual amount you pay will depend on the length of your YouTube video, the nature of your content (that is, if it contains and specialist medical or legal terminology) and the language that you need. 

How much does a French translator cost? Sticking with our example of French translation services, there are various choices when it comes to cost. If you already have a transcript of your video content, you could feed it into an online translator, which will spit out a French document translation in mere moments for zero cost. However, the translation will lack the elegance and nuance that a professional French translator would deliver. 

If your budget allows you to appoint a French translation service, you have the choice between using a freelancer or an agency. Costs vary for both, so it’s worth getting quotes from a handful of freelancers as well as from agencies to see how much you can get for your money. Be sure to read reviews of those you are considering using, as part of your research, to assess the quality of the French translation services available to you, as well as the cost. 

Final thoughts

Streaming services such as Netflix have used subtitles to grow their business in recent years and many YouTubers are now doing the same. 

When we consider the potential returns, it is clear that there is no room for failure when it comes to delivering high-quality, accurate multilingual subtitles. YouTubers who build up large audiences have the potential to make vast sums of money. Finance YouTuber Andrei Jikh, for example, made over $1.6 million in ad revenue in under three years, while lifestyle creator Tiffany Ma reported earning as much as $11,500 per month from ad revenue as a result of her popular YouTube videos. Not bad at all considering that YouTube takes 45% of the revenue from adverts, with creators getting the rest. 

Getting your multilingual subtitling right first time can maximise your chances of you or your business becoming a global household name via YouTube. As such, whether it’s French translation services you need or translation into another language, it’s important to bear the above tips in mind. Doing so will support you to take a careful, well-structured approach to your subtitling, while also ensuring that the quality of your subtitles serves you well in terms of engaging with international audiences. The natural sounding language you deliver to support your video content could well be the key to unlocking your future global success.