How to add captions to your Youtube videos in English and French

My parents have a hell of a time explaining to their friends just what it is I do at work. And who can blame them, since it’s a bit jack-of-all-trades-y.

And so, for their edification, I present a summary of a recent project.


Subtitling videos used to be VERY time consuming. It would take a volunteer all day to transcribe the video, time the in and out points for each line of dialog, and then enter it all into Final Cut Pro. Ick!

Naturally, we avoided translating most of the video clips we produce. Which makes the David Suzuki Foundation’s Quebec office very sad. <le boo hoo. le sigh>

But now, through the magic of Google’s translation service and Youtube’s automatic transcription and timing features, we can subtitle a video with 30 minutes of effort.  That means we can easily make all our videos bilingual.

Check it out!

(to turn on the captioning click the triangle button in the bottom right of the Youtube player and then hover over your language)

Here’s step-by-step instructions on how to add French subtitles to a Youtube video:

  1. Upload your video to
  2. Get Youtube to transcribe your video by going to the “Captions and Subtitles” tab Youtube Captions and Subtitle tab
  3. Instruct Youtube to transcribe your video, then wait about an hour.
  4. Download the “English:Machine Transcription” file
  5. Clean up the Transcription file in a text editor, because Youtube’s translation is wonky! (“police team is wasted energy”??)
  6. Upload your corrected text file (but keep the “.sbv” extension” to Youtube

Congratulations! You now have a clean caption file in Youtube that can be automatically translated into dozens of languages.
Translation magic from Youtube

But what if “good-enough” isn’t good enough for you? What if you need a perfect translation?

  1. Cut and paste your timed caption text into Google Translate and let it work its magic
  2. Get a native-speaker to review and correct the translation
  3. Upload the corrected text to Youtube (remember to change your text file’s extension to “.sbv ” and if you’re dealing with a language with accents save the file in UTF-8 format.)

And you’re done!

Helpful links:

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