Live subtitling. Not rocket science. Just transcribe what they say on the telly so that it appears as subtitles. Right? Well, yes and no.

For a start, most live subtitling isn’t done with typing. But you know that already, don’t you? It’s either stenography, like in court, or respeaking, which is what I do. I repeat the soundtrack nice and clearly and the voice recognition software converts my voice into text which appears as subtitles. So definitely not rocket science, but I’m not just a human parrot either. Let me explain.

Subtitles are meant to be read (obviously!) which means we have to add punctuation as we respeak. We do this by literally saying the punctuation as we go, although this does mean that we can’t say the sentence “the ball came to a full stop”. It would have to be a “complete stop”. We also change the colours of the subtitles with voice commands as the speaker changes.

So far, so easy. The next challenge is macros. Simply put, we say one thing and the software produces something else. For example, my “20 macro” produces Twenty20, as opposed to “2020”. And we can change the contents of the macros too. Today my “thing macro” produces “whales”, because I don’t want wails in Wales today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring though!

Voice recognition software is remarkable, but it is still nowhere near the brilliance of the human ear. My bit of kit is trained to recognise my voice only, but even so I sometimes have to adapt my pronunciation to work with it. For example, I normally pronounce the word “jewellery” with two syllables, “jool-ree”, but the software needs me to say “joo-well-er-ee” or it thinks I’m saying “jury”. Oops.

Respeakers always have to think about language from the software’s point of view. It doesn’t know that a cricket score “three for twelve” shouldn’t be written “3412”. It doesn’t know that “London Eye pod” makes more sense than “London iPod”. It hasn’t heard of “Brexititis” or “Islamiphobification”. It needs me to be one step ahead all the time, only feeding it language that it can successfully transcribe. In fact, it’s this double-think that makes the job of respeakers so highly skilled.

So do you fancy a go? How would you respeak the following conversation? The answer’s below!


Rachel Thorn, Subtitler


White macro did you enjoy the cricket question mark yellow macro yes comma it was fun full stop I prefer 20 macro to Sumo wrestling full stop they look like thing macro exclamation mark white macro I think we should win five or six games this year with a score of at least one hundred and eighty hyphen nine full stop yellow macro I’m a cricket addict exclamation mark