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Subtitling for Netflix

A couple of weeks ago a former trainee with Nevero drew my attention to an online article in which it said that Netflix were offering viewers the chance to earn some extra money by subtitling programmes. “It’s a shame ours isn’t a regulated occupation,” she said. Even though, according to the article, anyone can sign up and “all” you have to do is take a short test on Netflix’s website, the reality is rather different.

The first time I actually heard about the Netflix test was at the Languages & The Media conference in Berlin, which I attended in November 2016. During one of the presentations at the conference delegates from Netflix spoke about various difficulties they face as a company when outsourcing translation and subtitling work. Like many large media companies, Netflix generally don’t work together directly with translators and subtitlers but pass this work on to specialized subtitling agencies. Although these agencies have to meet various requirements and Netflix regularly carry out random checks, every viewer knows that the subtitles often leave a lot to be desired.

But that is not the only problem. Because even though all the organizations with which Netflix work claim they use professional subtitlers, it is impossible for Netflix to know who actually produces the subtitles they receive. With a bit of luck the work has, indeed, been done by someone with the necessary training and experience but an agency can just as easily have used a student, who does it to earn some extra cash, or a housewife, who does it as a hobby…

And, finally, Netflix have no idea how large their pool of translators actually is. Suppose each individual agency says they work with thirty subtitlers (professional ones, of course). If Netflix outsource the work to four different agencies, you would think that they will then be working with 4 times 30 equals 120 translators. Except that most freelancers work for a number of different customers, so instead of 120 translators it could be only 100, or even only 90.

For all these reasons Netflix have decided that all subtitlers who work for them have to take a test via their website. Following the test each individual translator is given a unique code (the so-called HERMES number or H number). That number is used from then on to identify that translator (and therefore also his or her work). As a result, Netflix know exactly who subtitles which programme, regardless of the agency in between. And they have a means of measuring the quality of individual translators. According to the presentations at the conference that information could be used, among other things, to pay good translators more, but this was met with scepticism by the subtitlers in the audience…

Languages and The Media conference catalogue and bag

Languages and The Media conference catalogue and bag

Back to 2017. On Thursday 30 March Netflix officially launched their HERMES test. On Sunday 2 April the first article appeared on Newsmonkey in which it said that Netflix were going to pay viewers to subtitle programmes. The story was rapidly picked up by other media and on Monday afternoon you could read in various places that Netflix were faced with a shortage of Dutch-speaking translators. But not to worry, those who passed the test would from now on be able to “get rich watching Netflix”. Also the rates these would-be subtitlers would receive were quoted everywhere. In RTLZ’s article, for example: “For subtitling Dutch audio with Dutch text (you will receive) 9.50 dollars per minute of video, English audio with Dutch text 11.5 dollars and Japanese audio with Dutch text 24.50 dollars. Translators who speak both Icelandic and Japanese can expect to be paid the highest amount of 27.50 dollars per minute of video.”

Reactions were not long in coming. On the one hand there were professional subtitlers who stated that those were the rates that Netflix pay their suppliers and that the translator generally doesn’t even receive half of that (on which you, as someone who is self-employed, pay a serious amount of tax, but that’s another story). In fact, it says this on Netflix’s own website under the heading “How much do subtitlers get paid?”. In addition, professional translators only work in their mother tongue. So it is ridiculous if you are Dutch-speaking to think that you can translate from Japanese into Icelandic.

On the other hand there were the reactions from enthusiastic Netflix viewers who, undeterred by their lack of any relevant training or even basic knowledge of the Dutch spelling rules, already saw the money rolling in. Indeed, lots of people wrote that they had already signed up to take the test in multiple languages.

And, here and there, there were ironic reactions too. For example, someone wrote: “Hurray! Netflix want to pay for subtitles! What’s next? They’re going to pay the actors too?” Other people rightly remarked that subtitling is a specialist skill and specialists have to be paid.

After a lively discussion on their Facebook page, RTLZ’s editorial office phoned Netflix for a reaction but the company did not wish to respond.

Apart from that, those who would still like to sign up for Netflix’s subtitling test can do so via this website: Right at the end of the introductory text it says the following: “If you’re a professional subtitler interested in taking the test, you can take it here” (note the words “professional” and “subtitler”). And after that the company states that the volume of applications has exceeded even their expectations. I wonder how many are from Dutch-speaking Netflix viewers who have seriously overestimated their abilities…

published on 19 April 2017 (originally published in Dutch on 7 April 2017)

Presentation at the Unlimited! Symposium

On Friday 29 April, the first edition of the international Unlimited! Symposium was held in Antwerp. Nevero was one of the two main sponsors of the event and the intention was for two of us to be present but our newest member of the team was also interested so three of us attended.

It was a well-filled day with presentations by various speakers from Belgium and abroad. The overall theme was the accessibility of live events and there were panels on subjects such as audio description for theatre and dance performances and on accessibility for the deaf and hearing impaired by means of subtitles and sign language.

During the final panel I myself gave a presentation about our audio description for Buitenbeenpop, an open-air pop festival for people with disabilities. My presentation was partly based on this article in Dutch that I wrote in September 2015. Following the presentation I was asked various questions by the audience and during the week after the symposium I also received a number of reactions by email. One of them was from the organizers of a Polish festival that, like Buitenbeenpop, is made as accessible as possible. They also sent me a link to a YouTube video  about their festival and the similarities are certainly striking. Their audio describers wear bright red T-shirts very much like the ones we were given to wear by the organizers of Buitenbeenpop last year…

Photo of Unlimited! Symposium badge and conference folder

Photo of Unlimited! Symposium badge and conference folder

A symposium like this is an ideal opportunity for networking and to meet colleagues from other countries. The latter aspect, in particular, appealed to the other two members of my team and they were also delighted to receive lots of questions from final year students who are very keen to work in the sector. As for myself, I enjoyed meeting up again with a number of people I had got to know at other international conferences in recent years and also with various people I know from the Flemish audio description world.

published on 20 May 2016

English article for Circuit about our subtitling work

A few months ago I received an email from Canada from the Ordre des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec (OTTIAQ) asking whether I would like to contribute to the next issue of Circuit, their magazine about language and translation. As this quarter’s edition is all about audiovisual translation I wrote an article in English on subtitling corporate videos. The article is now available online and is entitled “More than Words: Interlingual Subtitling in a Bilingual Country – Translating and Subtitling Corporate Videos”.

In the article I write about the translation and subtitling work we do for our customer Clickable Video. This involves us translating the Dutch and French spoken in videos into the other language (Dutch into French and French into Dutch), so that the Belgian Foundation against Cancer, the end customer, has a fully bilingual version of every video (either a video in which French is spoken with Dutch subtitles or a video in which Dutch is spoken with French subtitles).

Screenshot of one of the videos I discuss in the article

Screenshot of one of the videos I discuss in the article

In addition to general background information and a brief explanation of the technical aspects of subtitling, I also look at a number of things that make translating corporate videos slightly different from translating a TV programme, for example. The full article can be read online via this link:

Circuit has twice been chosen as best magazine by the International Federation of Translators so it was a real honour to be asked to write an article for this leading magazine.

 published on 19 May 2016

English audio description for SIHO

A while ago we were approached by SIHO, Steunpunt Inclusief Hoger Onderwijs or Support Centre for Inclusive Higher Education. SIHO had had a documentary made in which four young people with a disability were followed while attending various higher education institutions and they asked us whether we could make an English version of this Flemish documentary, one that would be fully accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

Providing an audio description in a foreign language involves a lot more than you may first imagine. The describer does not necessarily understand the dialogues in the foreign language and this can lead to incorrect interpretations of the video. Fortunately that was not the case here as our English native speakers, like many of the people we work with, are also subtitlers and Flemish, the Dutch language as spoken in Flanders, is one of the foreign languages they specialize in. In addition, all Flemish dialogues had already been provided with on-screen translation subtitles.

The second challenge was that those translation subtitles also had to be made accessible. After all, the blind and visually impaired are unable to read subtitles and you cannot expect them to know enough Flemish to be able to understand the dialogues. But we were able to solve this too. We have considerable experience in making “audio subtitles”, as they are called. In fact, in 2012 our audio subtitles were the focus of a presentation at the Languages and The Media congress in Berlin and at the beginning of 2013 Meta, a journal for translators, included an article on this (see

In consultation with the customer the decision was made to make the translation subtitles audible by means of voice-overs. This meant that for each person we sought a different voice actor who then recorded that person’s texts again. We did not take the mouth movements of the people on screen into account (which is what happens in the case of dubbing) but we did ensure that the English voices reproduced the correct intonation and, where necessary, any hesitations that could be heard in the original version.

Finally, we had also noticed that there were some mistakes here and there in the English translation subtitles (which had not been done by us). When writing the scripts for the voice-overs we corrected various minor errors so that we ultimately ended up with a good, smooth translation that did not deviate too far from the on-screen subtitles, which would be irritating for those who can read these subtitles.

Intrigued about the result? The video with English audio description and audio subtitles can be viewed here: