Subtitles, Close Captions, and Audio Descriptions

I love crime dramas. With the coming of fall, I get to binge on CSI, FBI, NYPD (all those letters) when the new shows come out.

Enjoying foreign language TV

Recently, I found myself watching a couple of shows that are set in Europe. I love being able to see - with my iPad practically perched on my nose - the landscape and architecture of faraway places, all while pursuing the bad guys.

Since Budapest has been on my wishlist for a while now, I was happy to see two of my shows are set there this season. Great! Only one small problem: Hungarian. Large pieces of dialog are in Hungarian and I don’t speak Hungarian. Some days I am lucky I can speak English!

In all fairness, yes, people in Hungary speak Hungarian. Also, the TV folks provide subtitles. I am sure they believe that solves the problem, but for some of us, it does not. (I also have the same problem when they show a flash of a phone screen so the audience can read a text. That, however, is not within the parameters of this page.)


Has anyone come up with a brilliant solution for subtitles? I ask because I have not. I either keep going and become even more confused, or I try to read the subtitles and get maybe the first, two, or three words, or I try to pause the video.

Pausing the video so I can read what is on the screen is a catch as catch can affair. I am rarely if ever able to instantly hit the button to pause right on the subtitle I want to read. I then have to hit the 10 seconds back button and be on guard for the instant the subtitle comes on the screen. If I miss the moment this time, the process happens all over again. With any luck, I can pause the video at just the right moment that will allow me to read the subtitle at leisure.

I went online to see if there are any, better solutions to this problem. Some people asked if a text-to-speech app could be used on subtitles. Several different people on several different sites said this would not work. It has something to do with the subtitles being embedded in the signal and not a separate text message.

Audio descriptions

Some people asked about audio description. Remember audio description is a separate tract in the signal. It is a verbal play-by-play of what is happening on the screen. I should think that audio description would work but for one, small detail: I have not figured out how to use it on my iPad yet. Call me irresponsible. Tech and I simply are not best friends.

Asking for assistance

Then there is the low-tech option for subtitle reading: ask someone to do it for you. Of course, that assumes you have someone to watch with you who has the same, viewing tastes as you, etc, etc, etc.

So, once again, does anyone have a crackerjack solution to subtitles? I don’t think I could master Hungarian before the season is over and I would like to know what the bad guys are planning pretty soon!

Finding tech solutions

P.S. You can no longer call me irresponsible... at least not for this problem! I got adequately curious - and aggravated - and found what is actually a sort of simple solution!

My new iPad has automatic audio description. If there is an audio description tract being streamed by the video, my iPad will find it and play it.

How did I find it? Systems preference to accessibility to audio description, near the bottom of the list. Push the button to the right so it shows green. Voila! Who needs to speak Hungarian? Not me.

P.P.S. If that does not work, then open your show and go to the top, right-hand side of the screen. There should be a rectangle with lines. Click on it. You will see an option for close caption on the left and an option for audio description on the right. Click English and enjoy!

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.