Subtitles vs. Closed Captions: Understanding the Key Differences

When it comes to creating video content, there are a lot of technicalities to consider to ensure maximum accessibility and viewer engagement. One of these considerations is the use of subtitles and closed captions. While they are both similar in size and placement, they serve different functions. So, in this article, we’ll dive into the difference between subtitles and closed captions.

First off, let’s start with the basics.

Subtitles are translations of a spoken language that appear at the bottom of the screen. They are used to translate foreign language films or to help viewers who might have difficulty hearing specific parts of the audio. Subtitles are usually used when the video is in a language not known to the viewer and the viewer wants to read the translation.

Closed captions are a bit different. They include not just the spoken dialog but also any other sound effects happening during the video. Therefore, closed captions not only indicate the words spoken but also describe any other activities, like music or door slamming. This feature is beneficial for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers who can’t hear the audio.

So, what is the main difference between subtitles and closed captions?

Subtitles are primarily intended for viewers who don’t understand the spoken language, while captions are used to provide a full, written representation of everything that happens on-screen, even if it’s not spoken.

Another significant difference between subtitles and captions is the way they’re encoded in a video file. Subtitles are embedded into a video file as a separate stream that can be turned on and off. On the other hand, closed captions are embedded directly into the video and can’t be turned on and off.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of each feature.

Benefits of Subtitles

1. Subtitles improve accessibility for viewers who don’t understand the spoken language, allowing them to read translations and follow along with the video’s content.

2. Subtitles are excellent for viewers who might have difficulty hearing specific parts of the audio. By reading the dialog, they can enjoy the video at their own pace.

3. Subtitles can also benefit foreign language learners who want to brush up their language skills by following along with both the spoken language and the written translations.

Benefits of Closed Captions

1. Closed captions improve accessibility for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing, providing them with full access to the video’s content.

2. Closed captions enhance user engagement, providing viewers with a complete written representation of everything happening on-screen, including sound effects, ambient sounds, and speaker identifications.

3. Closed captions help improve search engine optimization (SEO) by providing search engines with additional text-based content to understand and index.

Now that we’ve discussed the differences between subtitles and closed captions let’s briefly discuss how content creators can add them to their videos.

How to Add Subtitles and Captions to Videos?

To add subtitles and captions to your videos, you can use various tools and software. For instance, YouTube has an auto-caption feature that can generate captions and subtitles for your videos. However, auto-caption might not always be 100% accurate, so, it’s best to review and edit them.

Alternatively, you can hire a professional to create captions and subtitles for you or use tools like Rev or Caption Pro, which can generate high-quality captions and subtitles in various languages.

One essential thing to keep in mind when adding captions and subtitles to your video is to ensure that they’re in sync with the audio. If the captions and subtitles are off, the viewer may have difficulty following along with the content.


In summary, subtitles are translations of a spoken language with no added descriptions, while captions are a full representation of everything happening on-screen, including spoken and non-spoken content. Both of these features are beneficial for improving accessibility and user engagement. Content creators can add them to their videos using various tools and software. By using subtitles and captions, content creators can help their videos reach a broader audience while providing equal access to their content.

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