Crowdsourcing to closed-caption videos with Amara

pictograms used by the United States National ...
pictograms used by the United States National Park Service. A package containing all NPS symbols is available at the Open Icon Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday’s Hangout On Air on American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf culture is now a video on YouTube, and that video is being crowdsourced for subtitles at Amara. If you’ve never heard of Amara (I hadn’t until yesterday), it is a website dedicated to crowdsourcing the captioning of videos. How it works is that anyone can embed a video on Amara, and anyone can caption it on a volunteer basis. Captioning is very time-consuming. It involves both transcription, line division, and time coding. The average rate of speech is somewhere around 5 syllables per second (Kendall, 2009, p. 145). You have to listen to a few seconds of a video, pause the video, type what you just heard, and repeat the process. The transcription has to be time-coded; i.e., the words have to be matched with the time they appear on the video, usually at about 32 characters per line[1], so that’s time-consuming too. For these reasons, when it comes to help with closed-captioning, the more the merrier, especially because so many people make videos pro bono. This video is over 48 minutes, and of course it’s pro bono. If you would like to closed-caption a few lines of the video on Amara, please do. A little work by a lot of people will get the job done.


1. I don’t like to repeat statistics without sources, but 32 and 35 characters appeared often on webpages. Screen Subtitling’s white paper “Closed caption subtitling” [PDF] said “the number of characters per line or row is a set limitation” (Screen, 2008, p. 2) with no specification of the limit or reference to the authority. I searched the Internet for the “set limitation” on characters per line, and I found the same numbers repeated in different places with no traceable references.’s “Closed captioning defined” page said, “the features of traditional captioning are: … 32 characters per line” with no citation. Welstech wiki said the Department of Education required 35 characters per line, yet when I searched the US Department of Education website, I could find no such specification.’s Closed Captioning FAQ answered the question, “What features are supported by CEA-608 closed captions for standard definition?” thus: ” […] A caption block can have up to 4 lines and up to 32 characters per line, although for accessibility reasons, it is recommended not to exceed 2 lines and 26 characters per line […].” I searched “CEA-608” to find the source, and I found the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) CEA-608-E Standard Details page. Unfortunately, the standards are published in a printed book that costs $300, $225 for members. Can anyone quote the source of authority? If so, please leave a comment.


Kendall, Tyler S. (2009). Speech rate, pause, and linguistic variation: An examination through the sociolinguistic archive and analysis project (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

Screen.  (July 2008). Closed caption subtitling. Retrieved from


American Sign Language (ASL) Hangout On Air, Interpreted

I participated in a Google+ Hangout On Air about American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf culture by interpreting for Dylan, a Deaf man who shared his perspectives. I interpreted consecutively so that people could watch Dylan without voice interference; I also interpreted consecutively rather than simultaneously with the aim of providing a more accurate and natural interpretation. I interpreted for the first 15 minutes until 7pm PDT. For the rest of the Hangout, Dylan took questions in the Chat window and answered them using his voice. (more…)


You can now adjust the closed-captions on my YouTube vlogs

Announced today: YouTube’s enhancements to closed-captioning. I’m glad to hear this! I am a longtime supporter of closed-captioning. I posted my first closed-captioned video on Google Video just after they implemented closed-captioning in 2006. Now YouTube has implemented CC settings that allow viewers to adjust the font, size, color, and background of captions. Even better, YouTube is now supporting older captioning formats so that videos captioned decades ago can now be uploaded along with their original caption files. This means millions more closed-captioned videos will now be viewable on YouTube!

Here’s that first closed-captioned video I posted on Google Video— now on YouTube. I’m glad people watching the videos I caption can now adjust the look of the subtitles to their preference. Feel free to fiddle with the CC settings to make the captions look just the way you like.