Captions vs. Subtitles: Do You Know the Difference?
Updated: April 8, 2021
When referring to words that appear on the screen of a video, many people tend to use the terms “Captions” and “Subtitles” interchangeably.
What are captions?
The first captions could not be turned off (open captions) and were part of the video itself. Soon after, closed captions were developed, allowing viewers to turn the caption
feature on and off. Today, both closed and open captioning are widely available in many forms across movie theaters, cable networks, devices, live streaming services, and most internet video players like YouTube, Vimeo, and Brightcove.
Captions, both open and closed, are different from subtitles in that they are designed to ensure the viewer can understand all of the essential audio in
the video — not just the spoken audio. Non-speech sounds that are necessary to the understanding of the video are also a critical element of proper captioning and are normally shown in brackets (as in the above example of the puppy attempting to bark angrily).
What are subtitles?
To accommodate foreign audiences who did not understand the language used in the film, this required text on screen that translated the spoken audio.
The above screenshot shows an example of Spanish subtitles from the movie Homeward Bound. In the film’s audio, Chance (voiced in English by Michael J. Fox) is saying, “Okay. Cats rule and dogs drool.”
The main purpose of subtitling is to translate spoken audio into the viewer’s language. In most cases, subtitles are not an appropriate accommodation for deaf and hard of hearing viewers because they do not include non-speech sounds that provide an equivalent viewing experience for people who cannot hear.
Want to learn more about captions and subtitles? Download the free Beginner’s Guide to Captioning!
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