Why Automatic Subtitle Generator Software Does Not Work

Automatic subtitle generator software represented by a graphic of a screen showing a video with a play button.

While it may seem convenient in a pinch, unfortunately automatic subtitle generator software does not work well enough for situations where accuracy matters. Machine subtitling of movies or viral videos can sometimes produce amusing results. These errors may seem insignificant, imagine a situation like a safety training video where getting the message across really counts. From looking unprofessional to causing a dangerous misunderstanding, subtitling done by automatic subtitle generator software can create a disaster. Let’s take a look at some of the pitfalls of automatically generated subtitles and how you can avoid them, either by signing up for professional services or by putting your own professional skills to work. 

Automatic Subtitle Generator Software Will Not Deliver The Results You Need

If you’ve ever turned on the automatic (same-language) captions for a YouTube video while listening to the audio, your reaction probably ranged from amused to baffled at the often inaccurate transcription. As YouTube itself explains, “YouTube is constantly improving its speech recognition technology. But automatic captions might misrepresent the spoken content due to mispronunciations, accents, dialects, or background noise.” Although artificial intelligence can do some very impressive audio tasks, such as identifying songs in seconds, the complexity of human speech in a video can sometimes present challenges. For example, speech recognition software may struggle when it hears acronyms, instead rendering them as a nonsensical group of homophones, e.g. captioning NCAA as “in see double hey.” 

Automatic subtitling (meaning displaying a machine-generated translation on the screen of audio spoken in a different language) has all of the same potential issues with automatic captioning, the difficulty that a machine has in “listening” to audio and displaying what it heard as text. However, when it comes to automatic subtitling, these combined with the additional difficulty of rendering the speech the machine hears in one language accurately in written text in a different language. In other words, automated subtitling depends on the combination of two processes, transcription (from source language audio to source language text) and translation (from the source language into the target language), with both processes introducing potential for error into what is already a very complex operation. 

In the transcription phase, both a human and a machine could mishear what the speaker has said. However, a human certainly has a leg up when it comes to realizing that they misheard. With the nearly infinite variety of sentences a speaker can utter, it may be difficult for an algorithm to quickly compare its transcription to a database of sentences to determine whether the result appears to be accurate. By contrast, human beings can quickly look at a grouping of words, think “That can’t be right,” and at least decide to double check what they heard. 

When it comes to translation, even if the automatic subtitle generator software correctly transcribes a statement in the source language flawlessly, it won’t be able to rely on a word-for-word translation the way a dictionary would. Instead, the software will attempt to create an analogous statement in the target language. Although the artificial intelligence behind automated translation continues to improve, it is at this stage that the need for human involvement to facilitate subtitling accuracy becomes even more apparent. 

Why Humans Are Needed For Accurate Subtitling

At this stage of technological development, artificial intelligence simply cannot match human intelligence for accurate subtitling. “Accurate” here does not mean a word-for-word translation; it means using the words and phrases that stay true to the speaker’s meaning. As we have seen with automated translation software like Google Translate, artificial intelligence has not yet advanced to the point that it can reliably handle the nuances of human speech, such as context and idiomatic expressions, that are critical to accurately conveying meaning between languages. 

Human translators, like those who work with TNOLA Languages, study for years to develop the necessary skills required to create accurate subtitles. More than mere fluency in the languages involved, human subtitlers develop a skill set that is both science and art, that allows them to read between the lines of what is said in the source language and choose the right wording in the target language to indicate what the speaker truly means. 

A More Existential Reason That Automatic Subtitle Generator Software Cannot Meet Your Human Expectations

Although artificial intelligence has ever-growing language comprehension and processing capabilities, humans will likely outperform machines on tasks requiring sensitivity to things like connotation, humor, sarcasm, metaphor, and so on. In these areas, humans have a distinct advantage, simply because, unlike machines, humans have had the experience of being human. It is this common humanity that allows us to convey meaning across language divides. While we can endeavor to teach machines about being human, it does not appear likely that a machine will truly understand the experiences that have shaped human language in the same way that a human can. For this reason, humans may always create more accurate subtitles than machines can. For the foreseeable future, when you need subtitles to facilitate comprehension in critical situations, automatic subtitle generator software is not the best option. It’s a much better idea to turn to a human professional when you have subtitling needs.  

TNOLA Languages Is The Source For Accurate Subtitling By Skilled Professionals

When you need accurate subtitling, using automatic subtitle generator software may seem like an easy way out, but in spite of continuing advances in artificial intelligence, it continues to struggle to consistently generate semantically accurate results. You may think you are saving time and money by simply turning on automatic subtitles, but in reality you risk mistranslations that can hinder communication with your audience. Instead of taking the automated route, contact TNOLA Languages to get started with our services today! Whether you need professionally created subtitles, legal document translation, conference interpreting, or of our many other language services, TNOLA Languages is ready to provide you with reliable, high-quality results. 

Also, if you happen to be one of the talented humans that can produce accurate subtitles (and perform other interpretation and translation tasks), we want to hear from you! TNOLA Languages values the contributions of professional translators and interpreters, allowing us to serve our clients and create a great work environment. Sign up to work with us today!