Most of you probably already know what closed captions are -- the black lines with white text that scroll up from the bottom of your TV. Maybe you've only seen them at sports lounges or restaurants or other public places. Maybe you have even been annoyed by them or laughed at some goofy caption that didn't seem to make any sense.
But if you have ever assumed these captions were done by voice activation or perhaps some other computerized means -- well, you are partially correct.
There is a person on the other end of those captions. Someone who most likely used to be a court stenographer or court reporter.
Well, it works with something called "realtime," which is the simultaneous translation of the captioner's notes to English through specialized software. It works just like a French/English dictionary, but it's a shorthand to English dictionary that translates as I type (well, we call it writing, because it is not really typing).
Once the shorthand is translated, my captioning software sends the English via modem to the TV station's encoder, which sends it out to the TV. That is why live captions are often delayed...the captioner has to listen to the live broadcast, write the text, translate it (instantaneously for the most part), send it via modem to the station, which sends it out to TV land to a decoder in the television.
The parts that make this job really difficult, and on some days impossible, is, one, the speed, and, two, the names. I just can't know every word that will ever come up, so I have to prep in advance. You can get a lot from the station's website, and the longer you are captioning, the more of those strange words and unique names you can add to your dictionary, but there is always something new. I can spell on the machine letter by letter, similar to typing, but of course that is very slow. I only do that if I know it's not in my dictionary and I can't make the word come out using other word parts. Oddly enough, the other day the name "Jehovah" came up on the news, and I could not get that word to translate properly. Even though I know this word, I must not ever had occasion to write it on my machine, so I had to spell it letter by letter, or what is called finger spelling. Now it is in my dictionary.
The other tricky part are those pesky homonyms, words that sound alike but are spelled differently. I have different ways to write -- well, write and right and Wright. Fish and Phish. Discreet and discrete. It gets so much harder when you factor in phrases and names like Duguid, which sounds like "do good." There is a fraction of time to correct mistakes -- usually while it is on my screen and has not yet gone through the modem to the encoder. Once it's gone, deletion may or may not work. Sometimes the caption may backspace off the TV screen, but often it will only come off partially, or it may cause some scrambling of the following words. Needless to say, there are no swear words in my English dictionary. That's not the kind of thing you want to translate by mistake.
I will note that the kind of captions that pop on the screen are added post-production. Live captioning scrolls up from the bottom in usually two or three lines, or it can appear at the top of the screen, and this is usually for live newscasts and sports. Sitcoms and TV commercials are usually captioned post-production.
Good captions come with focus, experience, and a lot of hard work. Here is a link for more information, but I'm happy to answer questions if you have any :)