Captioning vs. subtitles: What’s the difference?

Captioning vs. subtitles: What’s the difference?, Caption.Ed

While captions and subtitles are similar they actually serve different purposes. 

Captions provide viewers with a text version of spoken words. Also known as closed captions, captioning supports viewers to watch lecture presentations, films or television programmes. And while subtitles do that too, their aim is different. 

Subtitles, instead, translate languages or transcribe spoken words with the purpose of helping non-language speakers – or those with accessibility needs – to understand the audio they hear.

Netflix reports that 80% of viewers now add captions or subtitles to their favourite shows. So why is this form becoming so popular? 

To find out, we’ll pit them against each other in a round of captioning vs. subtitles. And by putting one up against the other, we’ll reveal what makes subtitles so different from captioning.

Captioning vs. subtitles: Captions

Captioning comes in two forms – closed and open. Closed captioning allows viewers to turn captions on or off as they choose. Instead, open captions are always on and don’t allow a viewer to remove or alter them. 

In essence, the meaning of closed captioning is to present on-screen text versions of audio transmissions at the touch of a button. Closed captioning is often helpful for anyone with learning disabilities or hearing loss. Plus, when they’re added to visual materials, captions help improve viewers’ comprehension and learning. 

Since over two-thirds of adults who don’t experience difficulties say adding closed captioning helps them to focus, the benefits are becoming attractive to everyone.

Captioning vs. subtitles: Subtitles

While subtitles are a form of captioning their purpose is different. 

Subtitles aim to translate spoken words, dialogue or narrative – usually from films or programmes – into written text on the screen. Whereas closed captioning gives a direct, written version of what’s said, subtitles interpret them for the viewer to understand them. 

So while subtitles are a form of captioning, they aim to interpret audio and translate it into written words as chosen by the viewer. 

Which one should you use, captions or subtitles?

When using the terms ‘subtitles’ or ‘captions’, difficulties often arise. And that’s because it’s easy to confuse subtitles with captioning. 

For example, 4 out of 5 young viewers could be adding subtitles to their programmes. But they’re more likely to be using closed captioning to help them improve focus and comprehension. 

Closed captioning allows you to add captions to programmes. But subtitles are a form of captioning that helps you understand and interpret the audio you’re listening to. They’re different in that they’re translating spoken words to present a different version on the screen. 

So, when it comes to the argument of ‘Captioning vs. Subtitles: What’s the difference?’, well, the difference is that they’re the same. It’s just that they have a different purpose.

Captions offer viewers a chance to add text versions of spoken words to enhance their focus and comprehension. Subtitles, instead, aim to transcribe or translate these words for viewers to understand.