Deaf sound artist offers lessons in better closed captioning

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I’ve really noticed closed captioning has gotten worse in recent years, and I’m assuming it’s because they’re auto-generated and never even edited by a person. Years ago I noticed that English slang would often get garbled by American closed captioning - or perhaps wrongheaded efforts were made to “translate” words - but now the wrong words end up in the caption in ways that don’t make any sense. And I’m not talking about Youtube videos - though obviously also that (the worst offenders being videos where the maker put captioning in large text over the video - that’s inevitably full of gibberish).

What she’s talking about isn’t just good captioning, it’s adding information not contained within the soundtrack at all. I know I’ve seen movies where the filmmaker did that, used captioning as another layer of information in addition to audio and visuals, but I’m blanking on which movies…


Netflix subtitles and captions are bloody dreadful. There is no standard, let alone the internationally agreed one. The stuff is all over the screen.

The BBC and ITV here in the UK do much better, and they give good descriptions of music, sound effects and non-verbal expressions like “scoffs”.


I recall a story about pirated works in China. They would “value add” meaningful captions. The example was some Denis Leary dialog that included, “General Lee.” The caption, in Chinese of course, didn’t just translate “General Lee” but included, “American Civil War General”.

Seems like that’s the kind of thing needed here… minus the pirating.


Agreed. I tried to watch a show recently, and the captions were full of screwed up homophones. It made the entire thing unwatchable, since the mistakes were too distracting.

As for the video lessons, I’ve noticed poor descriptions for sounds and the “one note” issue with music for a while. I guess some consider captions that show the title of a composition or a song to be an improvement. Whenever they appear, I immediately think it might be helpful for someone who is familiar with the work, but useless for someone who isn’t and cannot hear at all. Another new development is when lyrics to songs are included and they overlap with other sounds or dialogue. :woman_facepalming:t4:


Interesting perspective. If the song is designed to provoke an emotional response, it would be awfully literal and alienating to caption it as [song selected to provoke emotional response]. a poem could provide the same effect without reminding the viewer what was lost.

but at the same time this would depend on a collaboration much closer than currently exists. besides, the current standard for subtitles presumes that the reader can’t read fast enough for a poem to fit.


It must be astonishingly difficult to use written words to describe music to people who are profoundly deaf and have never heard it.


Elevator__Garota de Ipanema plays softly


It’s 2024, where’s my 5-20 line dinnerparty-subbing soundbar? [Ponders tuning to Paramount+ Eurovision coverage to check out the Hebrew subs, read they as Greek or not.]

Yeah, that’s what the original post is about.


This bit from a movie caught my attention. I thought, well that’s subjective


From the comments:

i’m a professional captioner. in my younger days, i used to book bands, was a roadie, a touring DJ, and an audio engineer. in all my years thinking about sound, i’ve never come across a more beautiful, thoughtful meditation on sound itself, on what it means, and that made me aware of the possibility that it could conceal as much as it reveals. While i’ve never created the kind of captions that are derided here, i still never realized how LITERAL i was being when i thought about sound. thank you so, so so much for this gorgeous work.


They are wildly inconsistent. Most of it seems to depend on who produced the program. Sometimes really good, in particular the shows they make - e.g.
and sometimes quite slapdash and poor even as just subtitles, in particular some Chinese and Korean shows where they weren’t involved in production. But I find that all of them are substantially better than what you’ll find on Amazon, where they often can’t even get the captioning for English words right, much less properly caption sounds.

I regularly watch shows from the UK/Australia/New Zealand, and it’s so bad they don’t just screw up homophones, they have whole sentences that are gibberish unrelated to what was actually said (but which, if read in a US accent, might sound vaguely similar). This is what convinces me it’s entirely machine done, because a human wouldn’t make those kinds of errors - and would catch them if they happened. It’s especially maddening because I know these shows must have closed captioning done in their countries of origin, but that data was tossed in favor of machine-generated nonsense.

I got in the habit of watching things with closed captioning turned on because I often watch with the volume pretty low and with environmental noises I sometimes miss things, especially if the audio mix is muddy - but it’s pointless because if I can’t make out the words, the closed captioning is guaranteed to be useless. I keep it on out of habit and because sometimes the mistakes are hilarious.

Yeah, that’s a pet peeve of mine - I find it distracting, and it seems like they only bother to do so when the song lyrics are pretty irrelevant to anything going on and whose general inclusion in the soundtrack is baffling.


Dunno, I’ve heard Italians massacre songs in English, and vice versa, there’s a definite bar of actually understanding what the words you are singing mean to get over. Easy enough to separate wheat from chaff there.



Wai… how does one happen into the Tentacle Porn tier on Netflix? [Kicks sand] Season 4 of Stranger Things. Okay. [Punches for Tokyo Guro fan rearrangements…]

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And apparently even within a show, closed captioning isn’t consistent. I just watched a non-Netflix Australian show last night. First episode: evocative captioning for sounds, accurately transcribed characters making puns, foreign words and mispronouncing things, etc. Second episode: gibberish - a high incidence of whole sentences being mistranscribed. I don’t get it.


You have to go to Amazon for that, but the closed captioning is terrible, so…

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