On 26 December 2003, Khun Thanatcha Saksayamkul kindly gave a talk on 'Subtitle Translation' at Chulalongkorn University. Quite a few graduates and current students attended the seminar.
About Khun Thanatcha
Thanatcha or Patcha was well known among Thais because of her translation which appeared on screen. Her works included box office movies like The Sixth Sense, Face/Off, Tomb Raider, Gladiator, Chigaco, A Beautiful Mind, A Bug's Life and Love Actually.
Patcha first worked as a subtitle translator in 1994. After she graduated Communication of Arts from Chulalongkorn University, she started her career as a film and subtitle editor for a TV programme. At that time, Khun Thippayachat who was a subtitle translator was having a health problem and was unable to take on the job. Patcha thefore took over the role and gained fame ever since. Patcha used to provide dubbing for cartoon programmes but she did not like it much as she could not change her voices to suit several characters so she decided to switch to work as a subtitle translator. Because of her experience in dubbing, she could perform the job well and had a good understanding of the timing of the subtitle to be shown on screen.
How to become a subtitle translator
"Anyone wishing to work in this field must love (1) movies and (2) language." said Patcha. She falls in love with movies and it makes her love language as well. Until now, Patcha has been working with movies for over 10 years. (Personal note: from the name, I thought 'Thanatcha' was male.)
Patcha said that there was no specific rules for subtitle translation. For example, in 'The Incredibles', Patcha used the words 'Khao' and 'Tua' when brother and sister talked to each other so as to make the characters sound cute. However, a translator cannot use the same techniques for some movies especially drama as it may make the subtitle awkward which was considered bad translation.
Regarding the censorship bureau, some scenes of several movies were deleted. 'American Beauty' was one of them because of the differences between Thai and Western cultures. This movie was on air with some scenes edited. Another example was 'Bridget Jone's Diary 2'. During the scene where a fat guy on the plane mentioned that Thai girls were nice, Patcha had to change the implication of the word 'nice' which originally meant 'prostitutes' to 'friendly' in order to prevent the conflict (or it would have become an issue in the papers - personal note). This was considered a distortion of the meaning but it was done so to save the image of Thai girls.
In terms of obscene language such as four letter words, Patcha sometimes translated them into Thai words with direct and offensive meanings to make them suit the scences. 'Why the hell are you asking?' was therefore translated into 'Meang Ja Taam Tam Hia Arai Wa?'. Viewers would laugh because the translation had the same effect as the meaning of the words spoken by the characters. This sentence appeared in 'Anger Management'. 'Using direct translation and obsence words will make people think it's funny instead of thinking that it's rude.' said Patcha.
Translation scripts for dubbing and translation scripts for subtitling are quite different. Translation for subtitling must focus on continuity of sentences between each scene so that viewers can link what was seen to the next sentences. Translation for dubbing is about timing; number of words must be the same as number of words actually spoken by the characters. Usually, translation for subtitling is followed by translation for dubbing since there is a market for both. Movies with subtitles are shown in the cinema while movies with dubbing are available for viewing in the form of VCDs.
Patcha said that most subtitle translations were to be completed within 7 days or earlier as the promotion had been planned in advance i.e. booking of dubbing studio, appointment with voice provider, film edition etc.
Some movies contain lyrics. Disney always hires a song writer to create a Thai song for the Thai version. Patcha likes to use rhyming but does not strictly make the translation the same tone as the original. Some songs can be skipped but the ones with important messages are not to be missed.
'Finding faults in translation when watching is no good. Viewers should look at the positiveness of the translation and apply that technique to their works.' said Patcha. 'A translator is the first to take everything from the film company and is to fulfil their needs'
Actually, Patcha gave a talk for 3 hours. Unfortunately, I could stay for only 40 mins. Apologies for this.
On behalf of the Chulalongkorn Translation Centre, I would like to thank Khun Patcha for giving us a chance to hear the view of one of the greatest subtitle translators.
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