You’ve probably heard people refer to captions and subtitles interchangeably, but they’re actually two different things. So, if you want to add captions to a video or you want to learn how to add subtitles, you’ll first want to know what sets the two apart – and which one you actually want to add to your video.
Captions have been around since the 1970s when they were first added to some television programs to help deaf people enjoy the same shows that hearing people watch with no problem. Captions went over so well with people who are deaf and hard of hearing that, by the 1980s, they were actually mandated for all U.S. broadcast TV. The captions you saw in the 1970s, and most of the ‘80s were permanently part of the video and couldn’t be turned off. Thus, they were called “open captions.” Captions that could be turned off were soon introduced, which is where we get the term “closed captioning.”
Subtitles, on the other hand, have been around since the 1930s. They were first created in the transition from silent to audio films. Basically, in silent film days, there was no language barrier in most films because there was no audio dialog. When “speakies” started becoming popular, people who didn’t speak the language of the film were left scratching their heads – until someone figured out adding subtitles to the video.
So, when we look at subtitles versus captions, what’s the main difference? Captions are created for the hearing impaired, and they include descriptions of non-spoken sound effects as well as spoken language. Subtitles are created to help people who don’t speak the language of the video understand it better. Subtitles include dialog, and they may even include the translation of lyrics to a song playing in the movie or video, but they won’t include other sound effects.