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I remember waking up the morning of January 17, 2008 and listening to the news over a cup of coffee.  One of the top stories of the day was the crash of British Airways flight 38 at London’s Heathrow airport. I was mortified.  InterNation had translated and provided subtitles for British Airway’s in-flight safety videos for all its aircraft types into eleven languages, and “our” subtitles were on board that aircraft.

With all safety-related information, great care is taken to make sure the subtitle translations are accurate and communicate effectively.  The challenge in this case was even greater because British Airways  imposed some special constraints: we had to use their proprietary, branded font, and the foreign language subtitles could only be one line long, not the more standard two liners.  The font in particular raised some layout issues, as it was much broader and fatter than the font we prefer to use, which is economical in terms of the number of characters you can fit onto a line without sacrificing legibility.  This meant we had to be extra succinct with our translations without leaving out any relevant information.  After all, safety comes first.

We checked, double-checked and triple-checked our subtitle translations, using different linguists so as to have “fresh eyes” reviewing the translations. For good measure, we checked everything again to make sure we had zero defect subtitles.  Then we send off our work to British Airways for their internal review and validation.  Only then did we finalize the subtitles.

I was greatly relieved to hear there had not been a single fatality that day, and even the injuries suffered by thirteen of the passengers were mercifully light, not counting some broken bones. An internal British Airways report concluded that the actions of the flight crew prevented a worse outcome than actually occurred, and the crew received the President’s Award from the Royal Aeronautical Society later that year.

To this day I still wonder if InterNation’s subtitles had anything to do with everyone getting off the plane safely… To see samples of these subtitles, please click on the preceding link.

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