Subtitling for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH): 5 Approaches

hard of hearing subtitling, with earphone
"Subtitling for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH): 5 Approaches"

 Audiovisual Translation (AVT) production is important to the deaf and hard of hearing audience, giving them the right to watch and enjoy the audiovisual products as a category of the viewers. Due to their impaired hearing, only subtitling is the most appropriate approach enabling them to communicate and understand such products.

In this article, we’ll discuss the following topics:

- Audiovisual Translation (AVT)
- The Main Channels of Information Related to the AVT
- The Three Key AVT Types
- The Five Strategies for Preparing Subtitle
- Communication Approaches for The Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Audience
- The Non-verbal Component
- What’s Beyond Translation

Audiovisual Translation (AVT)

Audiovisual is somehow related to cinematography and film-making, which is considered cultural communication between spectators and producers. In modern society, AV products have been more popular lately. As a result, the demand for translating such products has increased.
AVT is innate to humankind in general; people have been translating the audio/visual world which they live in from time immemorial”
Prof. Diaz Cintasthe
The Centre for Translation Studies (CenTraS), University College London

AVT is a multi-layered operation. Cinematic language is a complex process, as it’s not only about linguistic aspects, but also encoding what forms the final message. Cinematic language consists of linguistic, paralinguistic, musical codes, and sound effects. While visual codes include iconographic, photographic, graphic, planning, syntactic or montage, and mobility codes. Thus, AVT is considered a verbal and non-verbal component translation. It makes a big challenge for professional translators since they have to work with the verbal text, sound effects and visual platform in a specific atmosphere of the AV text.

The main channels of information related to the AVT can be divided into:

  • Verbal audio channels: dialogues, songs, and off-screen voices.
  • Non-verbal audio channels: music, sound effects, off-screen sounds.
  • Verbal-visual channels: subtitles, signs, notes, and inscriptions that appear on the screen.
  • Non-verbal-visual channels: pictures on the screen.

The three key AVT types

1- Dubbing:

Dubbing is replacing the original speech of a film, in the source language, with a translated dialogue recorded in the target language.

2- Subtitling:

Presenting rather the original dialogue of the speaker, or a translated written text showed on the lower part of the screen, as well as other elements that may appear in the scene like letters, inserts, graffiti, inscriptions, etc., and the information in the soundtrack (songs, voices off).

3- Voiceover:

Voice over is “simultaneous emission of the original soundtrack and the translation track” (Franco, Matamala & Orero, 2010, p. 5).
In addition, in some cases two other translation types can be applied:
1- Non-translation: when the dialogue is left as is.
2- Double translation: when the dialogue or message is translated twice, by combining two of the translation types.  
Choosing the appropriate translation type depends on the target audience if they speak different languages and the stylistic coloring in polyglot films.

The Five Strategies for Preparing Subtitle

There are five key strategies for preparing efficient professional subtitling:
  1. Vehicular matching: when the transcribed version shown on the screen without any translation and identification; e.g. Guten Tag; Bonjour.
  2. Translation with explicit attribution: translating the dialogue and indicating the foreign language spoken, e.g. [IN GERMAN] Good morning.
  3. Translation and color-coding: In the subtitles, the translated message is performed, and the text is color-coded, e.g. Good morning.
  4. Explicit attribution: only indicating the foreign language spoken, e.g. [IN GERMAN].
  5. Linguistic homogenization: avoiding the marking of the foreign language in the dialogue at all, e.g. Good morning.
While working on the audiovisual product, the translator cannot stick to one single strategy, as films are dynamic in nature. Specialists recognized that hard of hearing audience prefer having more information about a foreign dialogue in multilingual films. Translation with explicit attribution and vehicular matching are both preferred strategies. These two could help HoH audience follow dialogues and encode the film’s message.

Communication Approaches to the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Audience

Presented by Schwartz (1996), here are the various communication approaches available for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing:

1- The Auditory-Verbal Approach

People with hearing problems could use the help of hearing aids. The auditory-verbal approach helps those people listen and talk with the resource that has been amplified to allow them to hear the spoken language. This helps them to become independent, participating, and contributing citizens in society.

2- The Bilingual-Bicultural (Bi-Bi) approach

This approach is based on Deaf culture. Deaf people learn Sign language as their primary language, then comes the native language, e.g., English, German, French, which is taught as a second language through reading and writing. This means that these people know two languages with two cultures, considering than Sign language may differ from country to another accordingly.

3- Cued Speech

Cued speech has been used for decades. However, some people don’t know how it works and mixes it up with sign language. This approach is based on the sounds that letters make, not the letters themselves, somehow of lipreading. Cued speech consists of eight handshapes representing consonants and four shapes about the face to represent vowel sounds. Combinations of handshapes and positioning help deaf people visualize how a spoken word is pronounced. People with any degree of hearing loss can use cued speech.

4- The Oral Approach

In fact, the oral approach is no specific communication method but rather a group of various methods that serve to help deaf and HoH people to communicate through language in face-to-face situations.
Most of the oral methods are based on any residual hearing (with hearing aids or without) that might be had. Some people are taught to understand the speech by relying on their residual hearing using their sight to lipread. This method, often called the “multisensory” method counting on various senses like hearing, sight, and touch.

5- Total Communication

Clearly, from its name, this approach allows deaf people to choose between all the communicative possibilities to interact with deaf and hearing people. Total communication allows using signs, speech, gestures, speechreading, amplification, or fingerspelling separately in view of communicative efficiency.
The Non-verbal Component

It’s important to put in mind that sound is understood differently by each person in an irrational and emotional way. SDH needs to include information about the non-verbal components audiovisual texts (sound effects and music) of, otherwise, the deaf people would miss some details and won’t get the full message.
In audiovisual texts, and in movies in particular, sound comes in three central tracks that must be mixed and balanced to create the desired effects. These three tracks are:
  1. the human voice: considers the content of speech, the verbal and paralinguistic components, and the identification, description, and location of the voice.
  2. sound effects: has two types “synchronous sounds” which are matched with what is viewed, and “asynchronous sound effects”, which are not matched to any visible source, but provide an appropriate emotional nuance and they may also add to the realism of the film, and
  3. music: presents background music and songs.
The attention of translators and subtitlers to soundtracks may be seen as a very positive point although very few know the importance of them, as there is not much has been written about the roles and functions that sound plays in films.
Sounds are more powerful than light, as it seems to help the spectators directly get in touch with represented events and actions. For the deaf and hard of hearing audience, how can they feel what is happening in the film without sound? The answer would simply be “render it visually”; however, the sound will still be a problem, which can be solved by showing information about the soundtracks in the subtitles for a wider picture.
The translators working on SDH need to know that it’s “a style of translation in which the target text (TT) expresses and explains additional details that are not explicitly conveyed in the source text (ST).” In other words, “the TT is, at the same time, expansion and explanation of the contents of the ST.”
What’s Beyond Translation
In SDH, Some problems may appear at various levels:
  1. before the translation,
  2. during the translation,
  3. during the transmission (technical breakdowns).
In order to understand these issues, it is vital to analyze actual programs that are screened on television and to talk to those who are involved in providing this service and those receiving it.
Thus, the success of SDH is much more than the work done by translators and subtitlers. The quality of the end product is highly related to the technical and organizational conditions that are carried out by the language service provider.
The translator must be loyal to the viewer and think of their specific needs and expectations to guarantee that the end product is useful for the viewer. They usually react as negotiators between the target text producer and its receiver, and also between the different agents that take part in the process.

Spotting light on the importance of SDH and how this category of audience interacts with the audiovisual products, you could now be thinking of translation/subtitling to your AV products. Saudisoft offers you multimedia localization services, and guarantee you to deliver high quality results with our built-in quality assurance system and highly committed team.
AVT is innate to humankind in general; people have been translating the audio/visual world which they live in from time immemorial”
Prof Diaz Cintas, a Professor at the Centre for Translation Studies (CenTraS), University College London 

Multimedia localization could achieve essentials needs for your service, it will help you expand your market globally. also if you are targeting new regions, because English is not always the most favorable language in a lot of countries. also to satisfy your consumer demands you should do it with his/her own language, this extra service will cut the risk of losing the player or the consumer and increasing your sales. when it comes to subtitling services 
​​Saudisoft is one of the leading Multimedia localization companies in the world, we assure the quality of translation and voice over, efficient localization engineering to your content.

The subtitling industry is always evolving and growing, so you need to constantly read and be updated and educated about it. We will update this subtitling guide, so be sure to check back with us for improvements. With 30 years of experience, we can guarantee you that Saudisoft is one of the best translation companies in the market that can provide legal translation services with high quality and best prices ​ 


The Ultimate Guide to Subtitling
Globalization, Internationalization, Localization and Translation
Internet Speed impact on Localization Industry
What is the difference between Translation and Localization?
Translation Tools Now and Then
Amazing Facts about Translation Industry