The Video Production and Video Marketing Blog

3 Ways to Make Your Videos Accessible to Non-English Speakers

Posted by Catie Foertsch


If your company does business internationally, it’s critically important to respect your non-English speaking customers by making your video content accessible to them – and that means providing a way for them to access it in their language. But how do you do this? And how hard is it? Here are three ways, along with video examples from work we’ve done for our clients.

1. Closed Captions: Easiest and Least Expensive

Closed captions are the subtitles viewers can turn on or off by clicking the CC button at the bottom of the video. They can be created within some video platforms or created separately and uploaded to your video platform.

Closed captions can be created in multiple languages. They do not appear on the video itself, and so you can create captions in many languages for the same video.

The convention for closed captions has become the universal CC at the bottom of the video player. If there are no captions, the CC will not appear. If you see a CC on a particular video, it means there are captions. A viewer clicks on the CC to select the language she wishes to see the captions displayed in.

Take a look at this video - a social media teaser - which we created for MIT and QCRI, the Qatar Computing Research Institute. Note  the CC at lower right. Click it, and you’ll see a choice of English or Arabic captions.



The steps to creating captions in different languages are:

  • Obtain an English transcription of your video
  • Have the transcription timed to the video
  • Have the timed transcription translated into captions in your selection of languages
  • Upload the caption file

While these steps might sound complicated, there are vendors who have made these steps very easy to execute. We like to use 3PlayMedia for captioning.

Why choose closed captions?

You’d choose the captions option if you want to create one single video, no separate versions, and you plan to have your video hosted in one place. You'd also choose captions if you want to offer people a choice of languages.

If you decide to use closed captions, you'll want to create English captions as well, for two reasons. First, because closed captions help you with SEO. Second, because - according to a British study - a significant number of people who speak English will use your closed captions as they watch your video.

Closed captions are the least expensive option, because you add them to your English language video. There’s no need to create a separate video.


IMPORTANT: Some video hosting platforms (like YouTube) include an auto-caption option that uses voice recognition software to create captions, and many companies take advantage of this option. This is a terrible idea. Using the auto-caption tool to add closed captions to your videos can introduce mangled captions that damage your brand and irritate your customers.

If you want to use the audo-caption tool, MAKE SURE you go through your video frame by frame to correct the bad captions.

2. Permanent Subtitles: the Middle Option

Permanent subtitles are text lines that are printed directly onto the video, so they can’t be turned on and off. A different video file is created for each language.

For example, this is a training video we created for Avery Dennison, to teach people how to use its new printer. We created versions in English, Chinese, German and French.



The above video has no narration, but you can also add subtitles to a video that includes English narration. 

Permanent subtitles are slightly more expensive than closed captions because you are taking the translations and making new versions of your videos.

Why choose permanent subtitles?

This is the option you might choose if you’re delivering your video directly to people in a particular country, and so you know they’ll need a version in their language. You also might choose this option if your video is not going to be played on YouTube or other hosting site, so closed captions aren't an option.


3. Voice Translations: a Higher-End Solution

If it’s important that your video NOT look as though you’re multi-purposing the English version, you can create entirely new versions in each different language.This is, of course, more expensive than closed captions or permanent subtitles, because you need to hire a voice artist for each language, and then create new video versions.

You will also need to translate any on-screen text, and then swap out the English text for the new, non-English text.

Here are the steps to creating different versions of your video, each with a narrator in a different language:

  1. Translate the script into each new language
  2. Hire a professional voice artist for each language
  3. Edit each narration into the video, to create a new video for each language

Here’s an example we created for Summer Infant. It's a baby monitor video in French Canadian. It’s exactly like its English version, but it doesn’t look multi-purposed.



A note about translations:

While translation services use bilingual translators, and generally do a good job, it can be hard to know how accurate your translations are if you don’t read multiple languages.

If your industry has requirements for accuracy, or you just want to be absolutely sure your translations are correct, you can work with a translation service that provides optional back-translations and certificates or affidavits of accuracy.

 We find Internation very easy to work with for translations, back-translations, and affidavits of accuracy.

Which option is best?

Which method  you choose to make your videos accessible depends on a number of factors, like your budget, the importance of your videos not looking re-purposed, etc.

But - which option you choose matters less than the fact that you’re making your video content accessible to all your customers, no matter what language they speak.

That’s a great way to demonstrate that you value all your customers, not just the ones who speak English.

And that's awesome.





Topics: Corporate Video, Video Marketing, What Marketers Need to Know