Translating Netflix Subtitles: Netflix and Earn? (The Hermes Test)

Translating Netflix Subtitles

Move over Netflix and Chill, now it’s all about Netflix and Earn! Well, kind of. Announced as the best way to get Netflix for free, the company announced on several news sites that it was recruiting translators for its original series and movies subtitles (for example: The Next Web).

The Backstory

A friend alerted me of this opportunity, knowing that I am bilingual Italian/English. I thought it would be fun to try the admission test and see if I could progress on to be added to Netflix’s pool of freelance subtitle translators. Little did I know that such process has several flaws and is designed to filter out the majority of applicants. In a nutshell, Netflix was a victim of its own media coverage success when it publicised its translation opportunity. The system could not cope with the volume of applications and people had been waiting weeks to hear about their admission test results.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional subtitler. I have done a large number of translations as a freelancer from/to English/Italian.

Word on the Street

The word on the street (read: online forums) is that there are several bugs in the system: from videos buffering or not playing altogether during a test, to a scoring system that basically only calculates half of the work you submit.

Here is a selection of quotes from the forum Proz.com:

 

The multiple-choice parts – which a computer can score instantly – will really enable them to screen out those who haven’t got what it takes.”

“Netflix reaching out to freelance translators directly may be a sign that the in-between “vendors” are not paying translators enough to get acceptable quality. Though it will involve extensive project management work from the Nexflix staff, they’ll supposedly be able to control the quality level of the translations they hire.”

“Apparently, since the results are coming out automatically, the percentage with which we were graded reflects only the first four multiple choice quizzes. The 5th test will probably be graded only for those who passed this first stage and we will be provided with a classification afterwards. — That’s just what I can infer with the information we have.”

“Whether working for Netflix is worthwhile or not – There are many vendors and outsourcers who offer different rates for translators, proofreaders and QCers, (…) My experience over the years has shown me that the translator rates can range from outrageous to fairly reasonable. ($1/min – $5/min).”

Translating Netflix Subtitles: The Admission Test

Good subtitles, in whichever language, should be concise and be timed according to the dialogue: they shouldn’t appear too early or too late in the programme, and they should convey the message using the least amount of words possible so that the viewer can concentrate on the action.

Translating Netflix Subtitles

If you are interested in trying the admission test, here is the process.

 

  • First, you need to register with a dedicated website called Hermes at https://tests.hermes.nflx.io/
  • You will be allocated a unique number, which will be sent to you via text message.
  • When you receive the text message, you will be given a link which you can’t use from your mobile but only from your laptop/computer, so you need to email it to yourself.
  • You must login with your phone number and unique number allocated by Netflix and then you are presented with a welcome screen with the admission test. There are six tests in total with various duration, but allocate about two hours in total to complete them.
  • The first four tests are multiple choice lasting between 10 and 15 minutes, and the last two tests are subtitling assessments lasting 40 minutes each.

Depending on your broadband connection, you may need to refresh your screen a few times to play back the video files embedded in the text. Please be aware that each test is timed, therefore having a bad broadband connection will work against you.

Once you have completed all tests you should receive your score straight away but some people had to wait a week or several weeks.

People who have completed the tests said that the system calculates a pass/fail score automatically from the first three-four tests only and that the last two tests are redundant. Here is a quote from Proz.com:

 

“I registered in the Hermes system. Then, I completed only 4 first phases. The last 2 subtitling phases I DID NOT complete (on purpose) – I left all subtitling fields empty and just pushed ‘Submit’. So, I immediately received my score………. 85.33%. I passed the test.”

 

Please note that each language pair will have a different pass threshold according to demand and supply. For example, Italian and Brazilian Portuguese applicants need a score of about 90%.

Please also note that the videos streamed during the test may have varying degrees of difficulty: if you are lucky, you will be tested on a video that has clear and comprehensible dialogue. Other times, you will need to play the video over and over trying to understand some unintelligible dialogue. I was very lucky because I was given to translate The Ridiculous 6, starring Adam Sandler, with idiotic and simple dialogue, and a hilarious episode of Chelsea, Chelsea Handler’s Netflix show. The short video from the programme had a rapid exchange of jokes, which were fairly easy to translate.

The Problem with Passing the Admission Test

Should you crack open the champagne when you succeed at the exam? Not really: first of all, you won’t know straight away if there is any work available in your language pair. Secondly, you are required to invest in subtitling software, if you don’t have it. Of course, Netflix aims to attract experienced subtitle translators who have all the necessary software and hardware at their disposal to produce good quality work. Netflix has very exacting requirements. The format is dfxp.
As long as your existing software produces files in the correct extension, you can choose any compatible system.

Netflix has a rather puzzling and confusing set of guidelines, all bundled together in long lists. For a newbie, instead of being helpful, these guidelines are mind-boggling. But this won’t deter those who still want to apply, whether they have the experience (and the correct software) or not.

Failing the Admission Test

I am proud to say that I spectacularly failed the Netflix admission test by scoring a miser 71.33%! I failed mostly because, in the multiple choice questions, you needed to match English colloquial expressions to their equivalent in Italian. My interpretation is that I am not down with the kids, and that’s fine by me.

However, I really enjoyed the two subtitling tests: you are presented with a subtitling interface where, on the left hand side, you have the original video and original subtitles, and, on the right hand side, you have to fill in the translated subtitles. You need to match the timings of each subtitle or get penalised. This forces you to come up with synonyms with a lower word count, so that the text fits within the screen. I have a newfound admiration for people who do subtitling for a living.

The Verdict

Subtitling and translating subtitles can be a lucrative line of business. However, if you are considering applying with Netflix, you should already have enough experience and the correct software to be able to work. If you speak a language that is in high demand you are likely to make a good income from translating subtitles.

There is not enough information available online yet about how often you will get translating projects from Netflix.

Further Reading

Working as a Freelance Subtitle Translator