Over the years of work, I have noticed an alarming trend — many otherwise capable subtitlers will often follow their client’s guidelines too strictly, almost dogmatically, without a real understanding of why those guidelines are the way they are and not knowing when to deviate from them to ensure the audience’s viewing comfort. This leads to countless subtitling errors, because no matter how robust and well-thought-out a style guide is, there will always be gaps in it, and so there’ll be moments when you need to make a judgement call based on your expertise rather than a written prescription.
In this new article series, I’d like to stress the importance of a thoughtful, intelligent approach to subtitling and to highlight some of those gaps, starting with arguably the biggest one.
At the same time, when given creative freedom, the most skilled and experienced subtitlers don't obsess over that number as much everyone else seems to believe, because they know just how unreliable it can be, for multiple reasons.
First of all, as I wrote in one of my previous articles, CPS and WPM consider only the volume of subtitle text but not its other properties, such as complexity or format. Unfamiliar words, tricky syntax, puzzling dialogue, italics and some other things will slow down your reading, and these two metrics simply do not reflect that.
Max Deryagin’s Subtitling Studio
Dyslexie Subtitle Font: Does It Work?
When I first learned about a font designed specifically for the dyslexic, I thought, “Nice, but will it work for subtitles?” I wanted to test it, but the font (called Dyslexie) cost quite a bit — I wasn’t ready to shell out that much just to satisfy my curiosity, and I had to give up on the idea.
Almost a year later, while browsing the internet, I came across an article saying that the Dyslexie font is now offered free of charge for personal use. Of course, I was curious, and so I decided to go on a quest to try and find out if a special font can help the dyslexic enjoy subtitled films.
Here’s what I did:
I created English subtitles for a short video clip from the Soviet film
Beware of the Car (two versions: with Arial and with Dyslexie)
Registered on the most popular forums and networks for the dyslexic
Asked the members to watch the video clips and share their thoughts
Collected the data
The results were interesting. First, it turns out that dyslexia is not one condition, strictly speaking. Rather, it is an umbrella term for a whole spectrum of disorders with a common characteristic — trouble with reading. It expresses itself differently in different people, and so Dyslexie doesn’t work for everyone. Second — and I should have realized it sooner — because I used the same video clip with the two fonts, it introduced bias, since the viewers were already familiar with the subtitle text when they got to watch the second clip, so they naturally favored it.
Here are some of the comments I got:
Made it much easier for me. No squinting or focusing super hard for the second one.
I found Dyslexie quite a lot easier actually, I am surprised myself. I didn’t lose my place and didn’t have to reread some parts, which happened a few times with Arial. I like how it was more spread out.
I will say, it was easier to read. However, some dyslexics have a hard time with this style of font.
For me it’s hard to tell because of course the one
I read second was easier.
I did like the strong contrast - I often have problems with subtitles because I have a hard time seeing them against the background of the film, but yours were very easy to see.
After gathering all the feedback, here’s what I learned about the subtitle-related preferences of the dyslexic:
Most (but not all) preferred Dyslexie over Arial
They like it when there is a strong contrast between the subs and the image
They prefer one-liners over two-liners (those are easier to read)
The more time they are given to read each subtitle, the better
Wide letter-spacing helps them zoom through words faster
One dyslexic person, who is a professional filmmaker, pointed out that Dyslexie is a reverse serif font, a font that is heavy on the inside rather than on the outside. Subtitles in such fonts, when moving or appearing on top of moving images, can induce a photosensitive epileptic episode in those with sensitivity, which means this font would not pass the Harding test and would be illegal to distribute in most countries. There is a workaround, however: you can use a black opaque box for subtitle text, which, as opposed to a shadow or outline, covers the background movement and thus solves the problem.
With this information in mind, I created two more clips (this time different ones). As previously, the subs were in Arial and Dyslexie, but now they had a black box, they were timed better and they had more one-liners. I shared the videos with some of the people who took part in the original experiment — and they loved the new subs!
Now, interestingly, even though I am not dyslexic, I prefer Dyslexie. To me, it just reads better than Arial and many other fonts. Compare:
Which one do you like more? Please share your thoughts in a comment below.
This experiment, even though it gave me a good idea about what most dyslexics like in subtitles, is inconclusive. For a definitive result, proper research is required. When that’s done and we know what exact subtitle style and font is best for people with various types of dyslexia, streaming services can add one more accessibility feature to expand their audience with the dyslexic.
And this concludes the article. Cheers!
If you want to know how it feels to be dyslexic (sort of), you can try out this dyslexia simulator.