The Subtitling Business in the Middle East: How Professional is it?


The other day, I was watching one of my all-time favorite shows (a cooking show, one of my passions!) which had Arabic subtitles. I usually love listening to the original English. Being the perfectionist translator that I am, I couldn’t help but take a quick glance at the subtitles.

Before I continue, let me state that the channel is the Number 1 (and only) food channel in the Middle East (still, they always make both Arabic and English mistakes and I always contact them, correcting the mistakes and humbly offering my services – yes you guessed it: they never reply).

Back to the main subject: I noticed that “United Kingdom” (المملكة المتحدة in Arabic) was translated as الولايات المتحدة (which means United States in Arabic).


Now imagine if this is an interpreting mistake and not a subtitling one, it could seriously lead to huge misunderstandings on the international level!

As far as I’m concerned, this channel is simply putting its professionalism on the line especially that its target audience is the Arab world. They even make Arabic grammar mistakes in their commercials (I could go on and on about this).

On another note, I will continue to watch my favorite shows on that channel (and they are all English shows), and I will simply ignore the Arabic subtitles.

In this context, Arabic subtitling in the Middle East is not looked at as a professional translation service. Many subtitling companies do not hire professional translators to do the subtitling/dubbing because they do not want to pay a lot of money for experienced linguists. Instead, they opt for bilingual or trilingual people (mainly young people), thinking that it would cut it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many skillful bilingual or trilingual people in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon (Arabic, French and English being all taught in most schools), but translation is an art, and so is subtitling. Although many translators (mainly fresh graduates) in Lebanon work in the subtitling field, the latter is still a very under-rated business: they are very poorly paid.

To look on the bright side, some reputable channels do not use the services of subtitling companies; they hire their own translators (who get a decent salary) to do the subtitling, thus making sure the quality is outstanding, since it will eventually result in more ratings.

How do you view the subtitling industry? Do you love it or do you prefer other types of translation? Share your opinion in the comments below!

One thought on “The Subtitling Business in the Middle East: How Professional is it?

  1. Hi,
    I’m a translator myself, not subtitler, but I think I have an idea how the subtitling work generally happens in the middle east.
    Most major networks have both, in-house subtitlers and suppliers companies they outsource these jobs to.

    The problem with Fatafeat (and others) is that they sometimes hire mediocre companies for their subtitling works, watching their own budget expenses, instead of hiring top-rank subtitling companies in the region.

    In middle east, and especially Lebanon, you have world-class subtitling companies like Screens International that do jobs for all Europe and USA large TV networks.

    It is always the TV channel itself to be blamed once they hire companies that can only deliver mid-school level translation for the cheap prices they offer.

    Yes indeed, it is an Art.

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