Teacher Tech: Making Your Own Video Subtitles

There’s some debate about whether it’s worthwhile to add subtitles to video clips that are shown in class. While that’s a good topic for another day, there likely will be times when, for whatever reason, you’ll want students to have subtitles to read as they watch a video. But what if you’re unable to find subtitles? Well, it’s actually possible to add your own. This article will show you one way to do this, and it doesn’t require any money, subscriptions, or tears on your behalf. Well, maybe a few tears, but at least it won’t cost you money.

First, the bad news. Adding subtitles isn’t as easy as it used to be … or, at least last time I checked. Years ago Windows had a free app known as Windows Movie Maker that allowed users to effortlessly add subtitles to their videos; however, this program was discontinued and every other method of adding subtitles now requires a bit more work: enough work such that fully subtitling a feature-length movie is probably out of the question. The good news is that, while a bit time consuming, it’s not terribly hard, and once you get the hang of it, you can subtitle a short video in under an hour.

Before We Start:

Before we learn how to add subtitles, it might worth talking about why you might need to use them in the first place. I’ve found adding subtitles can be useful when:

A. The English is too fast for students to understand, or uses unfamiliar pronunciation,

B. You want students to focus on the video’s overall meaning, rather than interpreting the English,

C. The English is too difficult, in which case a “simple English” (or even Korean!) translation can be
provided through the subtitles.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s learn how to do it.

Step 1: Download Shotcut

Yes, I know: I hate installing random programs, too. But Shotcut is, in my experience, one of the better free movie-editing apps out there. I’ve experimented with quite a few and, while Shotcut isn’t always intuitive and takes a bit of practice to figure out, it tends to have the best usability-to-hassle ratio among other free programs out there.

Here’s the link where you can download the program: https://www.shotcut.org/download/

Step 2: Select Your Video File

Easy enough: Simply open Shotcut, then drag and drop the file to which you want to add subtitles:

Your video will now appear in Shotcut.

Step 3: Add your Video to the Timeline

You’ll notice a big blank spot at the bottom of the Shotcut interface. Drag and drop the video window down to that area …

… and this will happen:

Step 4: Split the Video

Now’s the hard part. You’ll need to split the video at any point you want to add subtitles. To do this, first click anywhere above or below the blue timeline. DON’T click on the timeline itself. Once you do this, a white vertical line will appear where you clicked.

The white line is the cursor. You can drag it wherever you want on the video. NOTE: pressing the spacebar will cause the video to begin playing at the cursor, and pressing the spacebar again will cause everything to pause.

If you press S or the ][ symbol on Shotcut’s interface, this will happen:

You’ve now split the video at this location. As with a word document, you can press Ctrl+Z to undo it if you’ve made a mistake.

Find a place where you want to add a subtitle, and split the video at the beginning and end of the part where you want the subtitle to show, like this:

If you look at the picture above, you’ll notice two black bars sectioning off a portion of the video. This will be the frame where your subtitles will go.

Step 5: Add the Subtitles

Now, click on the frame where you want to put the subtitle. You can click directly on the blue timeline this time. The frame will be highlighted in red.

Now, go to the menu at the top of Shotcut, and select “Filters.”

Next, hit the + button below the window in the upper left.

A menu will pop up. Type “text” in the search bar. Then you can choose from either “simple” or “rich.” So as to not get too confusing, we’ll go with simple text for now, but if you have time, you can experiment with rich text later.

Now type your subtitle!

NOTE: If your subtitle isn’t appearing in the video window, it’s probably because your cursor is at a different point on the timeline. Move the cursor to the current frame, and your subtitle should show up.

You can adjust the position of the subtitle by dragging the little gray ball in the center of the video window.

In the event you totally mess up, the subtitles can be removed by clicking the – button next to the + button you clicked earlier.

Here’s the good news: You’ve now added your subtitle. The bad news? Now you have to do that EVERY TIME you want to add more subtitles. Unfortunately, without advanced knowledge of subtitle-creation software, this is probably your best option.

Step 6: Save the File

If you just save from the menu, it will save everything as a Shotcut project, but not as an actual video. In order to change everything to a video, you must convert it. Fortunately, this is pretty easy.

Simply click on “File” on the far upper-left, then select “Export Video” from the drop-down menu. Finally click “Export File,” shown here:

It will take a little while to convert the file. You can see the progress in the window on the right. When there’s a green checkmark, your video has been exported and saved.

Good job!

You’ve succeeded in adding subtitles to your video!

Sources:

The Art Institute of Colorado. (2011). How Coyote and Eagle Stole the Sun and Moon. YouTube. USA. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGXRSfdObag&ab_channel=EricaPrettyEagle.

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