Case study: Foreign-language subtitles for patient education videos

Executive Summary

An international medical specialty membership organization came to Scriptis for foreign-language subtitles for patient education videos.  The organization advances quality care by providing training, safety accreditation, and certification for member physicians. It also educates patients about surgical procedures in order to help them make decisions about their treatments.

The Challenge

The client needed four informational videos translated and localized into Latin American Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Italian. The videos provided overviews of four different types of reconstructive surgery to assist patients in decision-making and preparation. For multimedia localization, clients can choose between voice-overs in the target language or subtitles. In this case, the client wanted subtitles. They also requested subtitles in English. To ensure best results, we followed a multi-step process.


First, our video editor created English language subtitles from the time-coded scripts supplied by the client. She provided these subtitles as SRT (SubRip Text) files. The English language files then went to our Spanish, Brazilian, and Italian teams for translation, editing, and proofreading.

For this project, we worked with medical translators and reviewers who had experience with scriptwriting. A common problem with foreign-language subtitles is text expansion. For example, a Portuguese translation can require up to 30% more characters than the English source. We asked our translators to paraphrase when necessary to ensure that the subtitles fit the space available.

We then returned the proofed, translated target files to our video editor. She adjusted the timing of the titles so that a readable amount of text appeared in each frame. She also adjusted the placement and formatting of the subtitles to suit the client’s needs.

Clients have two options for subtitling videos: “hard subs” and “soft subs.” Hard is short for “hard-coded”—subtitles are encoded into the video and cannot be turned off. Soft subs, on the other hand, can be turned on and off by the viewer. For soft subs, we generally deliver SRT files. Our client chose hard subs, so our video editor coded the approved subtitles into the video. After a final review, we delivered video files with hard-coded subtitles to the client.


We delivered expertly subtitled videos, meeting our client’s deadline with time to spare. Careful attention to detail and comprehensive quality assurance provided the key to success on this project. In addition, we chose subject matter specialists as translators and scriptwriters as editors. This ensured medically accurate translations that also met space and style requirements.