How to caption a YouTube video

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YouTube is a popular way to share videos online. Providing captions on videos makes them accessible to a wider audience, including Deaf and hearing impaired users. Captions also help to increase the search ranking of a video so that it is more easily discovered through search engines.  

To upload and add captions to videos on YouTube, you must first create a YouTube account. If you have a Gmail account, you can also use this account to sign into YouTube. Creating a YouTube account is free for all users and allows you to subscribe to channels, upload videos and share them with people on the web.

Adding and editing auto-captions to videos

The easiest way to caption a video that you have uploaded on YouTube is to use the auto-captions feature and then modify manually. It uses speech recognition software to generate captions from the videos you upload in over 12 different languages, yet due to the feature’s inaccuracy, it is essential to edit auto-captions after they have been created.

To create and edit auto-captions:

  1. Once you have created an account, signed in and uploaded a video to YouTube, click on the down arrow next to the 'Upload' button at the top of the screen and select 'Video Manager'.
  2. In Video Manager, select the down arrow next to the 'Edit' button of the video you would like to caption.
  3. Select 'Subtitles and CC' from this down arrow menu.
  4. On the right-hand side of your YouTube video, select the button under 'Active tracks'. This will be defaulted to 'English' however once you select this button, you can change the language under 'Language'.
  5. To the right of the video under 'Caption text', the auto-generated captions should be listed with their corresponding timecodes. Each line under 'Caption text' can be edited once a line is selected.
  6. Click on the line you wish to edit and adjust the captions to correct it.
  7. When you have finished editing the captions, click 'Done' on the bottom right corner to save the new version of the captions.


Using YouTube's DIY captioning software

You can also use YouTube's DIY captioning software to create captions from scratch. This advantage of using this feature over the auto-captioning option is that it allows you to split captions in a more logical way that will make them more readable, and time them with more precision.

To create and time captions:

  1. Log in to your YouTube account, go to ‘Video Manager’ and click the ‘Edit’ button next to the video you want to caption.
  2. Select the ‘Subtitles and CC’ tab at the top right of the screen. In the 'Add new subtitles or CC' drop-down menu, select the language. You can select English, or choose from 160 other languages.
  3. A box will now appear to the right of the media player which says ‘Type subtitles here’. Play the video, pausing it as necessary, and type your first caption into the box, then click on the ‘+’ sign to lock the caption in. It will then appear in a box below. Once you have created a caption, you can edit it by clicking on its box.
  4. As you create captions, they will appear on the screen as the video plays, while they will also appear in smaller boxes beneath the video player. When you click on one of these boxes, blue ‘handles’ will appear on either side of it. To time your captions so that they are synchronised with the dialogue, click on the handles and drag them to the left or right to adjust when each caption starts and finishes. You can do this as you create each caption, but it is probably easier to write the text for all the captions first, then play the video again and adjust the timing for all of them.
  5. Once you have completed your captions and are happy with them, click on the ‘Publish’ button. Everyone who watches your video will now be able to turn the captions on and off.

YouTube has created a video to take you through the process.


DIY captioning tools for creating captions

There are a number of tools which allow you to create captions from scratch which can then be added to YouTube videos. The list includes the free CADET (Caption and Description Editing Tool) that was launched in May 2017 by the not-for-profit National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) in the USA. CADET is very easy to use and you can watch a YouTube video on how to create captions with CADET. Another DIY tool is Amara, which is an open-source, non-profit project of PCF, the Participatory Culture Foundation. And another option is dotSUB which has been around for quite a while and is quite straightforward to use.


Creating files with Amara

Here are the steps for using Amara, which supports YouTube, HTML5, Vimeo and other players. If you own the YouTube video, you can upload a caption file created on Amara to YouTube. If you don’t own the video, you can still use Amara to caption it, and when it’s completed anyone can watch the video with your captions on the Amara website.   

To create caption files using Amara:

  1. To begin captioning go to the Amara website and create an account. Note that Amara calls captions ‘subititles’.
  2. On the home page, click on ‘Subtitle a video’. Copy and paste the URL of the video you wish to caption, then click ‘Begin’.
  3. To commence captioning, click on ‘Add a new language’ on the left of the screen. You will be asked for the language of the video, and the language of the captions you wish to create. Then click ‘Continue’.
  4. There are three steps to creating captions in Amara: ‘Typing’, ‘Syncing’ and ‘Review and complete’. You will now be at the Typing step, with your video visible in a media player.
  5. Once you are ready to start captioning, play and pause the video as required and type the text for each caption in the box below the video.
  6. The three basic keyboard commands – ‘Play / Pause’, ‘Skip back’ and ‘Insert a line break’ are shown on three bars to the left of the video player. You can execute these commands pressing the key combinations, or by using your mouse to click on the bar itself. Pressing ‘shift’ + ‘tab’ will make the video skip back 2 seconds. Clicking on ‘more commands’ brings up a list of further options, including how to make the video skip back by 4 seconds.
  7. After you have typed each sentence (or as much of a sentence as will fit into one caption) press ‘Enter’, which will open up the box for the next caption.
  8. If you notice you have made a mistake in a previous caption, you can fix it by clicking on it, then typing the correct text.
  9. When you hover your cursor over a text box with a caption in it, a short tool menu (indicated by a spanner symbol) will appear, giving you the options to add a new caption above or below it, and to delete a caption.
  10. If you have a caption with two lines of text, try to split it so that the lines are of roughly even length. Press ‘shift’ + ‘Enter’ to create a line break, and try to place the break where there is a natural break in the sentence (e.g. where there is a comma).
  11. Don't worry too much about fixing up mistakes during the Typing step, as you can do that in the Syncing and Review steps. If you need to interrupt your captioning session, click ‘Save draft’ before exiting.
  12. When you have typed all the text of your video, click on ‘Start syncing’
  13. The ‘Syncing’ page looks much the same as the ‘Typing’ page, however there are now two additional tasks on the ‘Keyboard controls’: ‘Start subtitle’ and ‘End subtitle’. 
  14. When you are ready to start synchronising your captions, play the video. When the first caption needs to appear on screen, press the ‘down arrow’ button on your keyboard, creating a caption start point. When the next caption needs to appear, press the ‘down arrow’ again. This will create a start point for the second caption, as well as an end point for the first.
  15. You only need to press the ‘up arrow’ to create an end point for a caption if there is a gap between it and the next caption, or it is the last caption on the video.
  16. Continue until you have synced all the captions for the video. You may need to do this several times to get it right. (You can always start again from scratch by returning to the previous page without saving your work, then forward again to the syncing page.) But don’t worry about making all of the timings exact, as you will be able to fine-tune them in the Review step.
  17. When you’re finished, click on ‘Start review’ for the next step. Play your video once more. If you see any spelling mistakes, or missing dialogue or other audio, pause the video and click on the caption to fix it.
  18. In addition to the captions being superimposed on the video, below the video player you will see them running along a grey line that scrolls continuously as the video plays. A vertical red line runs through the centre of this, indicating how the captions are synced in relation to the video. Each caption occupies a separate box, with a tab on either side.
  19. You can change the syncing of a caption by clicking on these tabs, then dragging the edges of the box to the left or right. (Note, you can move the caption line rapidly back and forth by placing your cursor on the row of numbers above it and moving it to the left or right.) You will also need to use this function if there are gaps in the dialogue of your video and you need to create gaps between the captions.
  20. To create a gap between two captions, pause the video at the point where the first caption should end. Click on the arrows to the right of this caption’s box, and drag it to the red line. As you do so, a gap will open between this caption and the following one.
  21. Once you are satisfied that all your captions are correct, you can publish your captions. Before doing this, you may want to click on ‘Edit title and description’. If your video is being hosted in a file sharing service such as YouTube, the information on it will have been automatically imported from there to Amara.
  22. Once the title and description are correct, click on ‘Publish’. The caption file will be integrated with the video, and can now be watched by anyone on the Amara website.


Uploading a caption file or transcript to videos

If you have a caption file ready, you can upload it to your YouTube video through Video Manager. YouTube supportsthe SubViewer (.SUB) and SubRip (.SRT) caption file formats. You can also upload a transcript which will be automatically converted to a caption file, and timed using speech recognition software. The transcript needs to be accurate, and in text file format.

  1. In Video Manager, select the down arrow next to the video you want to caption. Click 'Captions'.
  2. On the right hand side, select 'Upload caption file or transcript'. This will activate a pop-up screen.
  3. In the pop up screen, select the folder/s where the caption file or transcript is saved. Select the file.
  4. Click 'Open'.
  5. Select 'transcript' or 'caption file'. 
  6. Select the appropriate language and enter a track name.
  7. Select 'Upload'.


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