You are probably aware of the words ‘captions’ and ‘subtitles’ and at first glance, they may appear to be identical.
But they’re not.
So what are the differences between the captions and subtitles? And did you even know that there are differences?
You may not know that there are indeed key differences between the two terms, and even more so when it comes to comparing closed and open captions against subtitles too.
And because many people refer to these terms interchangeably, this post will demonstrate that they are not synonymous with each other. In fact, they are very different and have their own respective purposes.
If you don’t what to get into too much details and you just want to get straight into the answer, let’s get into the ’too long, didn’t read’ part and get straight into it by watching the video below or read the next two sections:
What’s the difference between captions and subtitles?
Captions are generally designed for those who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing and tend to have both speech and non-speech elements in the videos e.g. coughs, music, door slams, thunderstorm, dog barkings, etc.
Subtitles are generally designed for viewers who can hear the audio in the video but do not understand the languages e.g. foreign films.
And here is a quick break-down of the two:
Overview of captions vs subtitles
- Assume the viewer cannot hear
- Includes elements such as background noises, speaker differentiation, music descriptions, sound effects and other relevant information translated from sound to text
- Comes in two forms: “Closed Captions” and “Open Captions”
- Displays all dialogue and audio as text
- Generally added after the video (film, TV programmes, YouTube videos, etc) has been release
- Assume the viewer doesn’t understand the language or are not fluent in the language
- Commonly used in foreign films
- Only includes dialogue
- Generally provided prior to the video being released
- Translate languages as text
Now that you know the general differences, let’s get deeper into the topic.
What are captions?
The term “captions” comes from the word to take/capture/seize. This is meant to be a metaphorical meaning, like how you want to capture the meaning of a photograph or video into a tangible meaning.
Even though it’s a common term and understood by many, it’s perhaps more common in North America and it is generally referred as subtitles that are in the same language as the spoken audio in the video.
Don’t forget that there are also important differences between open captions and closed captions too.
But instead of getting too detailed about the open vs closed captions, you can check it out below.
What’s the Difference Between Open Captions & Closed Captions?
Make sure you know the critical differences by clicking on the link below:
What are subtitles?
Subtitles is a form of captioning used to translate the audio dialogue in a video from one language to another. And it is generally a more common term used worldwide for text that accompanies video content.
The term “subtitles” comes from the word
It is possibly more common across the world than “captions”.
The most obvious examples are foreign films. If you know English but you don’t know Spanish, then you will require English subtitles when watching Spanish-speaking films.
Benefits of using captions or subtitles
There are so many advantages of using captions/subtitles that it’s a no-brainer for everyone who creates video to use them.
Some of them includes:
- learn new languages quicker
- improve your literacy rate
- increases the chances of video engagement
- easier access to other cultures around the world.
And there are many more benefits that you may have never thought of.
What are the Benefits of Captions/Subtitles?
Learn about the 15 benefits that you and your viewers can get out of captions/subtitles
What are the similarities between captions and subtitles?
Both captions and subtitles have the same primary objection, which is to enable your audience to access and better understand your video content, which then allows you to extend your reach to a wider audience.
Even though these audiences can be different across the board, the aim is to make your video accessible to as many people as possible who would have an interest in your video.
Shall I use captions or subtitles for my videos?
Whether you choose open/closed captions or subtitles will depend on the audience that you have in mind for your video, as there are no clear answers on when you should use captions and when you should use subtitles.
Don’t get me wrong; both are important but both have their own purposes. But in order to make the best decisions, it’s all about
- having the audience in mind and understanding their behaviour and need
- the actual video itself, as there may be occasions where certain sounds are crucial as it adds to the context of the video.
Ah yes, the dreaded “it depends”.
But as a very general guideline, if certain sounds are important to the users, include them alongside the speech elements too e.g. sound effects, music, sighs, coughs, background noise, explosion, thunder, crickets chirping, etc.
And understanding the differences between open and closed captions can also help with that.
A good example is when I watched ‘One Planet’ on Netflix and narrated by Sir David Attenborough, there was a particular scene overlooking the rainforest where (apparently, as I couldn’t hear it), there were various animal noises overlapping each other.
So Netflix had it covered by captioning that scene:
On the other hand, if you want complete control over the font, size and colour of the text of the screen, you are better off using open-captions.
Because of the misunderstanding between the two terms, it’s common to see many people and even major companies get confused between the two.
Even Netflix, who has some of the highest subtitles and closed captioning standards groups them under the same heading of “Subtitles”.
And depending on what country you are based in, YouTube will add either add a “CC” or “Subtitles” under the videos, depending on where you are viewing it from.
This can be very confusing for someone who requires one or the other, hence why it was important for me to write this post.
But regardless of whether you use subtitles or captions, because of its primary goal of making videos accessible, there are many benefits of using them, not just for your audience but also for yourself too.
The more people who can access your video, the better. And providing captions or subtitles can play a huge part in that.
Let me know in the comment below whether you knew that there are differences between the two terms and which one do you use more often. And is there anything else that I am missing.
It’s always insightful to get the perspectives from different people across the world so do share your thoughts and experiences for everyone to see below.
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