You might have seen text appearing at the bottom of your TV screen or online videos, providing the dialogue and important sounds in written form. These texts are often referred to as closed captions, or subtitles (close but different meanings)
Closed captioners play a vital role in making audio-visual content accessible to a broader audience, particularly for individuals with hearing challenges.
If you have strong language skills, excellent attention to detail, and a passion for accessibility, a career in closed captioning might be right for you.
This article will teach you how to become a closed captioner in 7 simple steps, but first, let's understand what exactly closed captioning is, and the types of caption writing jobs that you would be doing.
What is closed captioning?
Closed captioning is the process of transcribing audio and displaying text on screen, making audiovisual content more accessible.
It serves several purposes, including:
- Assisting people with hearing challenges in consuming content
- Helping non-native speakers improve their language skills
- Enabling viewers to watch videos in noisy environments
Closed captioning promotes accessibility, inclusion, and diversity in society. It is not only a legal requirement for certain types of media but also a moral obligation to ensure that everyone has equal access to information and entertainment.
Without closed captions or subtitles, millions of people would be excluded from enjoying and benefiting from the content.
Closed captions vs. subtitles
While closed captioning and subtitling may seem similar, they serve distinct purposes.
Subtitling primarily targets audiences who can hear but speak a different language, while closed captioning specifically aims to assist individuals with hearing impairments.
Closed captions often include additional information, such as sound effects and speaker identification, to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the content.
Types of captioning jobs
There are two main types of caption-writing jobs:
In pre-recorded closed captioning, captions are created and synchronized with the audio content before it is aired or streamed. This type of captioning is commonly used in movies, TV shows, and pre-recorded videos.
Real-time closed captioning involves transcribing audio content as it happens. It is typically used during live events, news broadcasts, and other instances where captions need to be created on the fly.
Real-time captioners are often referred to as stenocaptioners or broadcast captioners as they make use of stenography machines to transcribe spoken words into captions, which then appear on-screen within seconds.
Tools and technologies used in closed captioning
Various software solutions are available for creating and editing closed captions, such as:
- Pictory AI — the best way to generate videos with closed captions burned-in
- Subtitle Edit.
- AHD Subtitles Maker
Steno machines, used by court reporters and real-time captioners, allow for faster and more accurate transcription.
Voice-to-text applications can help closed captioners quickly convert spoken words into written text, streamlining the captioning process.
Skills and requirements for closed captioning
To excel as a closed captioner, you'll need a specific set of skills:
- Fast and accurate typing
- Listening and comprehension
- Grammar, punctuation, and spelling
- Time synchronization
- Adapting to different styles and genres
- Familiarity with captioning software
Developing these skills will help you stand out in the job market and increase your chances of success in the closed captioning field.
a) Language proficiency
You need to have an excellent grasp of the language being spoken or conveyed in the content. Strong vocabulary, grammar, and spelling skills are essential to accurately transcribing audio or video content.
b) Listening and typing skills
You must be able to listen to the audio content and type at the same time. Good typing speed and accuracy are critical to keeping up with the pace of the content.
c) Familiarity with closed captioning software
You should be familiar with closed captioning software such as VITAC, CaptionMaker, Subtitle Workshop, or CaptionSync. These software programs make it easier to caption the content quickly and efficiently.
d) Attention to detail and accuracy
Closed captioning requires a high level of attention to detail to ensure that the captions accurately represent the audio or video content.
e) Time management skills
You must be able to work efficiently under pressure and meet tight deadlines. Good time management skills will help you stay organized and complete the work on time.
f) Knowledge of accessibility guidelines
You need to have a good understanding of accessibility guidelines such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to ensure that your closed captions meet the necessary standards.
g) Patience and perseverance
Closed captioning can be a tedious and time-consuming process. You must be patient and willing to persevere through the challenges to deliver high-quality closed captions.
h) Closed captioning experience
A strong portfolio can help you showcase your skills and attract new clients or job opportunities. Make sure to include your best work and keep your portfolio up-to-date.
Closed captioning training and education
Education and training are essential to becoming a successful closed captioner.
While formal education is not always necessary, having a background in language, communication, or media studies can be beneficial.
Here are some education and training options for closed captioning:
- Certificate programs: Many colleges and universities offer certificate programs in closed captioning. These programs typically cover the technical skills, software, and accessibility guidelines required for closed captioning.
- Online courses: There are many online courses and training programs available for closed captioning available on sites like Udemy and Skillshare. These courses cover the same content as certificate programs but are more flexible and self-paced.
- Apprenticeships: Some closed captioning companies offer apprenticeships or on-the-job training programs for aspiring closed captioners. These programs provide hands-on experience and mentorship from experienced professionals in the industry.
- Self-learning: Some closed captioners are self-taught and have developed their skills through practice and experience. While this option requires a lot of self-discipline and motivation, it can be a viable option for individuals who prefer a more flexible learning approach.
7 Steps to becoming a closed captioner
Now that you have a better understanding of closed captioning and the available job opportunities, let's dive into the steps you can take to become a closed captioner.
Step 1: Take closed captioning courses and training
Pursue courses, workshops, or training programs that focus on closed captioning techniques and software.
Some institutions offer specialized programs in closed captioning, while others provide online courses that can help you gain essential knowledge and skills.
Best captioning courses:
This is a detailed Udemy course with a 4.7-star rating and over 500 students.
You'll learn key components of captioning, such as audio transcription, desktop tools, improving captions with respect to given guidelines, integrating captions into videos (subtitle tracking), auto-captioning, translation, etc.
This is a short Skillshare masterclass that's only 2 hours long but will teach you everything you need to master closed captioning.
Topics include captioning services and guidelines, transcription, transcription, and captioning processes, caption editing tools and software, automated captioning tools, embedding subtitles on a video, transcription job sites, etc.
Step 2: Develop typing and language skills
Closed captioning requires fast and accurate typing. A typing speed of at least 200-225 words per minute is often necessary for real-time captioning.
To improve your typing speed, practice regularly and consider using typing software or online tools.
Strong language skills are also crucial for closed captioning. Develop your grammar, punctuation, and spelling abilities, as well as your understanding of the language or languages you plan to work with.
Familiarize yourself with industry-specific terminology that you may encounter in various types of media content.
Step 3: Gain experience through internships or volunteering
Experience is key to becoming a successful closed captioner.
Look for internships or volunteer opportunities to practice your skills and gain real-world experience. Local TV stations, online media platforms, or nonprofit organizations that focus on accessibility may offer opportunities to gain hands-on experience.
Step 4: Obtain certification (if required)
In some cases, obtaining certification as a closed captioner can enhance your credibility and improve your job prospects.
Various organizations offer certifications, such as the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) and the American Captioning Institute (ACI).
Research the requirements for certification in your area and consider pursuing one if it aligns with your career goals.
Step 5: Create a professional portfolio
A professional portfolio is essential to showcase your skills and experience to potential employers.
In your portfolio, be sure to include samples of your closed captioning work, such as transcripts, video clips, and any relevant certifications or training you've completed.
Make your portfolio website up-to-date with your latest works.
Step 6: Develop your closed captioning niche
Specializing in a specific area can help you stand out in the competitive closed captioning market:
a) Broadcast television
Working with broadcast television networks can provide a steady stream of projects, such as news programs and talk shows.
b) Streaming services
The rise of streaming platforms has created a growing demand for closed captioning services for movies, TV shows, and documentaries. You can do closed captions for Netflix and Amazon Prime content.
c) Live events
Closed captioners are increasingly needed for live events, including conferences, sports matches, and concerts.
d) Educational institutions
Educational institutions often require closed captioning services for online courses and instructional materials, making it a potential niche for closed captioners.
Step 7: Apply for jobs and network in the industry
Once you've developed your skills and gained experience, start applying for closed captioning jobs.
Networking is also crucial in this field. Attend industry conferences, join professional associations, and engage with others in the closed captioning community to establish connections and stay informed about job openings.
How closed captioning works
The process of closed captioning involves transcribing audio content into text and synchronizing it with the corresponding video.
1) Transcribing audio into text
The first step in closed captioning is transcribing the audio content.
This involves listening to the audio and converting speech, sound effects, and music cues into text. Depending on the type of captioning job, transcription can be done in real-time (live captioning) or offline (for pre-recorded content).
For real-time captioning, closed captioners use specialized equipment like stenotype machines or voice writing systems to quickly and accurately transcribe audio as it happens.
Stenotype machines allow captioners to type in shorthand, which is then translated into full words and sentences by computer software. Voice writing systems, on the other hand, involve the captioner speaking into a microphone and using voice recognition software to transcribe their spoken words into text.
For offline captioning, transcription can be done more leisurely, often with the aid of transcription software. Captioners can pause, rewind, and review the audio to ensure accuracy.
2) Editing and formatting
Once the audio has been transcribed, the text needs to be edited for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, ensuring that the captions are accurate, clear, and easy for you to read.
The text may need to be formatted or adjusted to fit specific style guidelines or requirements, such as character limits, line breaks, or font choices.
In the case of real-time captioning, this editing and formatting process happens simultaneously with transcription, as the captioner must quickly review and correct any errors while the event is taking place.
3) Time synchronization
An essential part of closed captioning is time synchronization, which involves aligning the text with the corresponding audio and video.
This ensures that the captions appear on the screen at the appropriate time, allowing you to read and follow along with the content.
For offline captioning, time codes are added to the transcript, indicating when each caption should appear and disappear on the screen. This is typically done using specialized captioning software, which allows the captioner to review the video and adjust the timing as needed.
For real-time captioning, time synchronization happens automatically as the captioner transcribes the audio. The captions are displayed with minimal delay, ensuring that you can read them in sync with the spoken words and other audio elements.
4) Encoding and distribution
Once the captions have been transcribed, edited, formatted, and synchronized, they need to be encoded into a compatible format for the intended platform. This could be a separate caption file, such as SRT, VTT, or SCC, or embedded directly into the video file.
Finally, the closed captions are distributed to the appropriate platforms, such as television broadcasts, online video platforms, or other media outlets. This ensures that the captions are accessible to you and other viewers who rely on them for a better understanding of the content.
Finding a closed captioning job
With the increasing demand for closed captioning services in the media industry, there are more job opportunities than ever before.
However, finding closed captioning jobs can still be a challenge. Whether you're a recent graduate or an experienced professional, it's important to know where to look for job openings and how to make yourself stand out as a candidate.
Let’s explore the main places you can find closed captioning jobs.
Job boards and websites
You can search for closed captioning jobs by location, experience level, and job type.
Many closed captioning companies also post job openings on their websites, so it's a good idea to check their careers pages regularly.
Some examples of companies that offer closed captioning services and may have job openings include:
Freelance platforms are another great way to find closed captioning jobs and build your portfolio as a closed captioner.
Some examples of freelance platforms that offer closed captioning jobs include:
These platforms allow you to create a profile, showcase your skills and experience, and bid on job postings that match your expertise.
When searching for closed captioning jobs on freelance platforms, make sure to read the job requirements carefully and tailor your bid to the specific needs of the client. It's also important to communicate clearly with the client and meet their deadlines to ensure a successful working relationship.
As you gain more experience and positive feedback from clients on these platforms, you can increase your rates and attract more high-paying clients.
Networking and referrals
Networking and referrals can be an effective way to find closed captioning jobs and build relationships within the industry.
Also, be sure to attend industry events, conferences, and webinars to meet and network with potential employers and colleagues.
Start earning through closed captioning today
Closed captioning is a rewarding and profitable career path for those with strong typing skills, attention to detail, and a passion for accessibility.
With the demand for closed captioning on the rise, there are plenty of job opportunities available, both freelance and full-time. By following the recommendations in this guide, you can successfully kickstart your closed captioning career and start making money today!