Let’s get it clear. Pre-recorded subtitles mean subtitles appear on a programme with perfect timing, and the words on the screen match what is being said.
Live subtitles are where subtitles appear a few seconds after the spoken word. BBC news is a perfect example. The words are either typed at the same time via phonetic typing, or repeated via speech into computer software.
It makes sense to use live subtitles for live programmes. What is illogical is using live subtitling for programmes that are pre-recorded.
Have you tried watching the Alan Carr or Jonathan Ross chat shows? Usually wonderful hilarious interviews feature dialogue so fast that often, live subtitles mean we simply don’t “get it” in time! Have you tried watching nature documentaries with live subtitles? Often, the words appear to be about something that was screened 30 seconds ago.
Broadcasters will never understand the issue unless they watch something with the sound appearing 10 seconds after.
Live subtitles can be accepted on programmes like the news and other live shows like X-factor (where there’s been some improvement in the last couple of years thanks to my colleague, Ian Noon and others) however, even X-Factor’s subtitles have become really shoddy in the last few weeks.
Live subtitles become intolerable when you sit down to watch a pre-recorded show and suddenly realise the subtitles don’t match what is being said. It’s also a cause of family tension when a Deaf person wants to change the channel because they can’t follow the programme.
Then you make an official complaint and you get a standard reply. You reply to the reply and they still don’t get it. You end up getting an apology from the BBC 3 or 4 months later.
The other thing that has started happening is some of the replies to complaints tell us to watch the subtitled programme via iPlayer. This shouldn’t become an excuse for not subtitling it properly during the live broadcast. Plus, subtitles often aren’t right on iPlayer until a few days later.
Name and shame
I think we (deaf people and hearing allies) need to start pointing out when subtitles are letting us down. We need to say when it does not work – and also champion the times it does work well.
Here’s a few of my most recent tweets:
Tyron Woolfe BBC Apprentice
November 1 at 10:05pm
thanks for making sure the programme had PRE-RECORDED subtitles, us deaf and hard of hearing viewers enjoyed it immensely! PLEASE dont use any LIVE subtitling for the rest of the series, its happened before!
Tyron Woolfe @TyronWoolfe
@itv @wossy everyone laughs and i dont get it? Subtitles so out of sync. No logic as the prog was prerecorded
However the impact of my own comments/tweets have been fairly limited. They’ve “fallen on deaf ears” – pardon the pun! But perhaps the more we do this, the more the deaf audience will be noticed.
So from now on, please use this hashtag to point out pre-recorded programmes with live subtitles.
Let’s make our views heard!
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below:
- Signature: Leading awarding body for BSL qualifications
- Ai-Media: Remote captioning. Find out the benefits of live captioning at university!
- Bellman & Symfon: home alerting solutions
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support
- BSL Zone: TV programmes in BSL for the Deaf community
- Stellar Communications: Speech-to-Text services
- Appa: Communication services for Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people
- SignLive: Online video interpreting for Deaf people
- SignVideo: Instant BSL video interpreting online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services
- Eyewitness Media: TV and film from a Deaf perspective
- The National Theatre: Captioned and BSL accessible theatre in London
- Doncaster School for the Deaf: education for Deaf children
- Signworld: Learn BSL online!
- Helen Foulkes Translations: BSL translations
- RAD Tax Advice: Tax and Tax Credit info for Deaf people
- Performance Interpreting: BSL interpreting at concerts
- National Deaf Children's Society: The leading charity for deaf children
- Signed Culture: Advocating for BSL access to arts and culture
- SignHealth: healthcare charity for Deaf people
- CJ Interpreting: communication support in BSL
- British Society for Mental Health and Deafness: Promoting positive mental health for deaf people
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting
- BSLcourses.co.uk: Provider of online BSL courses
- Association of Notetaking Professionals: The professional body representing Electronic and Manual Notetakers
- Sign Solutions: communication support, training and translation
- InterpretersLive: On demand BSL video interpretation
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support
- Hearing Choices: Australian hearing aid specialists
- Elmfield School, Bristol: Inclusive education for Deaf pupils
- deafPLUS: BSL advice helpline
- Exeter Deaf Academy: education for Deaf children
- Royal Shakespeare Company: Captioned and BSL interpreted performances (see dates here)
- Royal School for the Deaf, Derby: Residential education for deaf children