What is the difference between closed captioning and subtitles?

Closed captions and subtitles

Is there a difference between closed captions and subtitles? The short answer is yes. If you’ve ever watched a foreign film you’ll be familiar with the text that runs across the bottom of the screen. Those are called captions or subtitles. But depending on what appears along the bottom of your screen will define whether they are captions or subtitles.

Closed captioning vs subtitles

The main difference between captions and subtitles is this. Subtitles are intended for viewers who can’t understand the language being spoken versus captions which are intended for viewers who can’t hear the audio.

Captions include all the sounds such as [laughter], [applause], and things like [car horn]. Basically any spoken word and any non-speech elements are displayed in text form at the bottom of the screen so that those with hearing disabilities can follow along with the video much more easily. Note that captions come in two forms: closed captions and open captions. This article explains: the difference between open captions and closed captions.

Subtitles on the other hand are only a text display of spoken words. They don’t include any sound effects. They are intended for viewers who can hear audio, but cannot understand the language spoken. Video subtitles are often referred to as translations. Users can usually select subtitles by clicking the same CC icon they would use to turn on captions.

Captions:

  • Identify speakers
  • Do not include non-speech sound elements
  • Move when they cover up things in the video
  • Include non-speech sound elements

Subtitles:

  • Translates audio into other languages
  • Do not include non-speech sound elements

Are video subtitles the same around the world?

In the United States and Canada captions and subtitles follow what we have described above. In the United Kingdom and many other countries, the definition of subtitles and captions is murky. You can use the words subtitles and captions interchangeably. Regardless, both subtitles and captions are designed to make the video easier to consume regardless of who is watching, they mean different things around the world.

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