Collaborative Text Translation with DotSUB

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

In a discussion about Uwe Müller’s dissertation regarding open access journals (see abstract with download link) on the A2k (access to knowledge) mailing-list, Arif Jinha wrote that it would be great to translate it collaboratively into English. Great idea, especially for a  269-page long  dissertation.

The way Arif Jinha intends to  collaboratively translate scholarly texts is based on the hypothesis that if two specialists thoroughly know each other’s subject, specialist B, even if he does not know specialist A’s language, is able to better understand – and render in own his language – specialist A’s work on the basis of even a dubious computer translation than would a generic translator who masters both languages. However, generic bilingual translators could be of use for checking possible mistakes in details.

This is very true. For instance, the best translation of a poem by Seferis into French was done by the French poet Yves Bonnefoy – who didn’t know Greek – on the basis of several English translations, in collaboration with Seferis who told him what he liked and disliked in these translations. And the same possibly extends to other fields of specialisation.

Collaborative Text Translation Tools

However, being just a generic translator, I have to  translate the other way round, from the small end as it were. So Arif Jinha’s suggestion got me thinking about collaborative translation tools. There are such tools for software, like Pootle, for instance, which split the interface into short strings presented in a table: a volunteer starts translating some, then another volunteer goes on. You can navigate by untranslated and “fuzzy” strings.

  • Problem 1: the strings are presented by alphabetical order, with only some coded indications of where the strings come from, and it takes some time to start understanding them. And one-word strings can be tricky: is “post” a noun or a verb, and if a verb, should we use the infinitive or the imperative, and if the imperative, the polite or the familiar form (in languages where both exist)?
  • Problem 2, you need a server on which to install this kind of tool.

Collaborative Text Translation with DotSUB

And then I remembered DotSUB. It is normally used for collaboratively captioning videos, but its  interface is very similar to one of the software translation tools that I covered in Three Video Captioning Tools. And you can have longer strings, in the order you decide – in the order of a text too…

But I needed a video pre-text first. So I made one, inserting a 4k black JPEG file in a video editor:

Black JPEG file

I timed it for 10 minutes and exported the video in the lowest possible resolution. Then I uploaded it into DotSUB and inserted some text from my blog post Making Web Multimedia Accessible Needn’t Be Boring, sentence by sentence:

Dotsub Transcription Tool:

video player left; things already transcribed top right; box for transcribing bottom left

I left the default 3-second timing for each string in the “Add a transcription line” box and paid no attention to the pre-text black video. Each transcribed string moves to the top-right table when you hit return and is automatically saved. When that was done, I clicked on “Mark this transcription complete” (bottom left) and moved to the DotSUB Translation Tool.

DotSUB Translation Tool

The transcription is in a tabled list, with each item followed by a link you can click to translate it

I clicked on the links to translate each string (actually,  I only translated the text into French, but I forgot to make a screenshot, first, so I made one of the interface for translating into Italian instead).

When you choose a language for the captions in the video player of the resulting Collaborative translation DotSUB page, you get the translation in the corresponding language as a drop-down list under Video Transcription. To get rid of the list markings, just copy-paste it into the “source” or “html view” of a web editor. Here is the almost unedited result (I just redid a separate paragraph for the subtitle and bolded it, and I put the rest in italics) :

Certains pensent que l’obligation légale de se conformer aux règles d’accessibilité des contenus Web – celles du W3C ou, aux USA, la “section 508” mène forcément à des pages ennuyeuses, rien qu’en texte En fait, ces règles n’excluent pas l’utilisation du multimédia sur le web, mais imposent de le rendre accessible en “offrant des alternatives équivalentes pour des contenus auditifs ou visuels et en particulier: “Pour toute présentation multimédia à base temporelle (p. ex. film ou animation), il faut offrir des alternatives équivalentes (p.ex. sous-titres ou descriptions audios de la piste visuelle) avec la présentation [Priorité 1]” [1] Ce n’est pas une corvée aussi terrible qu’il ne semble, et elle peut être partagée entre plusieurs personnes, même si elles ne sont pas expertes en technologie et n’ont pas d’instruments perfectionnés.

Sous-titrage avec

Exemple: Phishing Scams in Plain English de Lee LeFever, en  [2] Ici, la vidéo a été téléchargée dans, et plusieurs volontaires l’ont sous-titrée en diverses langues. Le résultat peut être insérer dans un blog, un wiki ou une page web. Les sous-titres apparaissent aussi comme texte copiable sous “Video Transcription”: commode si des gens veulent citer des passages dans une discussion de la vidéo. En outre, une transcription d’une vidéo tend aussi à améliorer sa position dans les moteurs de recherche, qui indexent principalement les textes. Le seul problème est que les sous-titres couvrent une partie substantielle de la vidéo

Summing up so far:

Of course, I attempted this alone. But it would also work with several people collaborating in the translation. In theory, even the transcription, sentence by sentence, of the original text could be shared, but I haven’t checked yet if a collaborator could decree that a transcription is finished when it isn’t, thus blocking the transcription.

In case of a longish text that must be translated into several languages (hopefully in collaboration with many people), this way of using DotSUB might prove useful due to the ease of toggling between the different versions from the main page.

Making Web Multimedia Accessible Needn’t Be Boring

claude80By Claude Almansi
Guest Author
7 November 2008

Some people see the legal obligation to follow Web content accessibility guidelines – whether of the W3C or, in the US, of section 508 – as leading to boring text-only pages. Actually, these guidelines do not exclude the use of multimedia on the web. They say that multimedia should be made accessible by “Providing equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content” and in particular: “For any time-based multimedia presentation (e.g., a movie or animation), synchronize equivalent alternatives (e.g., captions or auditory descriptions of the visual track) with the presentation.”[1]

This is not as bad a chore as it seems, and it can be shared between several people, even if they are not particularly tech-savvy or endowed with sophisticated tools.

Captioning with

Phishing Scams in Plain English, by Lee LeFever[2], was uploaded to, and several volunteers did the captions in the different languages. The result can be embedded in a blog, a wiki or a web page. The captions also appear as copyable text under dotsub“Video Transcription,” which is handy if people discussing the video want to quote from it. Besides, a text transcription of a video also tends to raise its ranking in search engines, which still mainly scan text.

The only problem is that the subtitles cover a substantial part of the video.

Captioning with SMIL

This problem can be avoided by captioning with SMIL, which stands for Synchronized Multimedia Interaction Language. A SMIL file, written in XML, works as a “cogwheel” between the original video and other files (including captioning files) it links to and synchronizes.[3]

The advantage, compared to DotSUB, is that captions stay put in a separate field under the video and don’t interfere.

This is why, after having tried DotSUB, I chose the SMIL solution for: “Missing in Pakistan – Sottotitolazione Multilingue.[4]

So far, the simple text timecoded files for SMIL captioning still have to be made off-line, though Alessio Cartocci – who conceived the player in the example above – has already made a beta version of an online SMIL captioning tool.

Captioning with SMIL Made Easy on

The Missing in Pakistan example is on, the site where the WebMultimediale project team experiments with the creative potential of applying accessibility guidelines to online multimedia – for instance, in collaboration with theatrical companies.

web_multiHowever, the project also has a public video sharing and captioning platform,, where everyone can upload a video and its captioning file to produce a captioned video for free. The site is fairly bilingual, Italian-English. By default, you can only upload one captioning file, but you can contact Roberto Ellero, the founder of the project, through if you wish to add more captions. also has a video tutorial in Italian on how to produce a time-coded captioning file using MAGpie, which is only accessible when you are signed in, but as it is in Italian, English-speaking users might prefer to use the MAGpie Documentation[5,6] directly.

Other Creative Potentialities of SMIL

As can be seen in the MAGpie Documentation and in the W3C Synchronized Multimedia page[3], SMIL also enables the synchronization of an audio description file and even of a second video file, usually meant for sign language translation. While these features are primarily meant to facilitate access to deaf and blind people, they can also be used creatively to enhance all users’ experience of a video.