fandom culture

P-pop translators: How these Filipinos break language barriers for foreign fans

Ysa Abad

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P-pop translators: How these Filipinos break language barriers for foreign fans
For these fan translators, it's all about accessibility and getting their favorite acts more global love

P-pop – with its addictive hooks and synchronized choreography – has earned a growing, dedicated following among Filipinos recently. But P-pop has also captured the international spotlight – with acts getting featured in global outlets, winning awards, and breaking records. 

In fact, fan or not, you might have come across the phrase “P-pop rise” – a collective cry among artists and their supporters to make P-pop a household name all over the world. 

But how can these P-pop acts get their message across to international audiences when majority of their songs and other content are in Filipino? The answer: fan translators, who volunteer to transcribe and subtitle this content from local languages to English.

Why become a translator?

Janelle Reyes, a 20-year-old college student who is a fan of P-pop groups SB19, BINI, G22, KAIA, YARA, and ALAMAT, set up Twitter account @caroustell to carry her translations of SB19’s content.

Before getting interested in P-pop, she had long been a fan of Asian media – K-pop, C-pop, anime, and Thai BL series.

“I know the struggle of not having English subtitles or translations immediately available for international fans,” she told Rappler.

“This made me think: if there ever would be a Filipino act that would garner this many international fans, I would definitely translate for them,” she said.

Soon enough, in February 2022, Janelle started translating for SB19’s School Buddies Youtube series. 

Meanwhile, Gwyneth Aristo, one of the head administrators of the ALAMAT Translation Team, had her first taste of translating for foreign fans with P-pop girl group MNL 48’s content. But while that was mainly casual translating for friends, it was only when she became a fan of P-pop boy group ALAMAT that she decided to take the task more seriously. 

“What pushed me really is my personal desire na makita ang P-pop na mag-grow pa at mas makilala ng mga tao hindi lang dito sa Pilipinas, kundi all over the world (to see P-pop grow and be known not only here in the Philippines, but all over the world),” she told Rappler.

Gwy continued that she, along with most Filipino fans-turned-translators, sees a huge potential for P-pop to capture global attention: “Alam kong kapag mas nag-grow pa siya at makarating sa international stage (I know that if this genre continues to grow and reach the international stage), it will really have an impact on a lot of people.”

Jhayce, a member of the SB19 Translations Team, shared to Rappler that she was “concerned [for their] fellow A’TIN (fans of SB19)…who [did] not understand the Filipino language.” Thus, she and colleagues Arly, Jay, Marielle, and Kat decided to form an actual team dedicated to translating SB19-related content.

Abigail Marces, a 30-year-old freelance data analyst, shared that she also didn’t plan on becoming a translator for SB19, until she was chatting with a foreign A’TIN and had to explain what “hopia” meant. She now handles the Twitter account SB19 English Sub.

“I just want to help and contribute in my own way, especially now that the group is gaining more traction in the international scene and is closer to their goal of world dominance,” she shared with Rappler.

The translation process

Any P-pop fan is aware of the massive amount of content – social media posts, interviews, variety program appearances, reality series, behind-the-scenes footage, and live shows, among others – that this kind of industry puts out. Given this, fan translators each tend to stick to specific content to prevent getting overwhelmed or overworked.

But how do they decide which media to translate first or specialize in?

Abigail, for one, focuses mainly on long videos. “[It’s] fun to translate since you can really see the different personalities [of SB19’s members] in those videos,” she said. 

Janelle, on the other hand, focuses on short videos, saying that anything longer than 20 minutes is time-consuming for her. Her other criteria is whether the audio and video quality of the original video is clear.

“If the audio is recorded raw or is somewhat distorted, [I waste a lot of time] repeating frames [just] to understand the inaudible [parts],” she said. 

Gwy, the ALAMAT translator, explained that she and her team make a list of which media they deem to be in-demand among Magiliw (fans of ALAMAT). Their team also makes sure not to repost any content from ALAMAT’s official YouTube channel, as they want the original video to get the lion’s share of views upon release, and also to avoid any copyright issues. Usually, once the original content is updated with its own English subtitles – as some official accounts have started to do – Gwy’s group immediately takes down their own videos with the English translations. 

Some fan translators also reach out to media outlets, radio stations, and variety shows to provide translation services for their favorite groups’ interviews and guestings.

Translating and editing in subtitles, though, is no easy task. These fans dedicate up to whole hours of their time for this, and usually for free. 

Abigail said that one hour-long Instagram Live takes her around eight hours to finish, from manually translating to adjusting the timing of the subbed videos. Gwy, meanwhile, said that it usually takes her two hours for a 20- to 30-minute video.

The SB19 Translation Team said that translating tweets takes the shortest time, while putting subtitles on vlogs takes the longest. They explained that vlogs and other large-scale projects often require the collaboration of all team members – one member does the time-setting, or determining which time blocks in the video require subtitles; then translators add in their translations; then another member checks the quality of the output. 

Marielle, a member of the SB19 Translation Team, said that it usually takes her around an hour to translate five minutes of dialogue. 

“It takes that long because translating is not just finding a one-to-one correspondence between English and Filipino words. I need to make the English translation as short as possible while still preserving the actual message, because the subtitle will only be onscreen for a [short] time. Readers need to be able to see the message as quickly as possible,” she explained. 

Other translators echoed the sentiment, adding that they know the importance of providing correct and reliable translations. The Filipino language is rich in slang, inside jokes, and other references that foreign fans might not understand, so translators have the difficult job of contextualizing certain situations and discussions. 

Jay of the SB19 Translation Team shared that they add “Translator’s Notes or T/N” when possible.

“The T/N is where we briefly try to explain what a joke means, especially if it’s a joke that needs [extra] context,” she said. 

The same goes for the ALAMAT Translation Team, with Gwy explaining that most of these Translator’s Notes can be found at the top part of their subtitled videos. 

Mas prefer ko na talaga na mag-over-explain na lang kaysa naman gawing clueless ‘yung nanonood.” 

(For us, it’s better to over-explain things than leave the viewers of our videos confused.)

I want to make international fans feel like they’re also in on the joke. I don’t want to let them feel left out. In that way, they can also laugh along or they can also understand the context of what the members are talking about,” she said. 

Gwy also emphasized that their team is not limited to just translating Tagalog to English. Since ALAMAT features several other local languages in their discography, Gwy’s group recognized the need to translate these as well, since not all Filipino fans are fluent in other local tongues.

Gwy recalled that when they were establishing their team, one of their main priorities was finding translators who were fluent in other local languages. Gwy is fluent in Bicolano, while her other team members are fluent in Bisaya, Waray, and Ilocano, among others. 

In their videos, they usually specify what language a subtitle is in so that both local and international fans understand that a specific ALAMAT member is not talking in Tagalog.

The problem, however, is that their small team can’t cover all Filipino tongues.

One of their hardest translating experiences, for instance, was for ALAMAT’s song “Hala,” because they didn’t know any fan who was fluent in the Sambal language of Zambales. They were only able to provide correct translations for that specific verse after reaching out to ALAMAT member Moe himself.

The joys of being a fan translator

Despite the many challenges, these translators feel that their hard work pays off when their content is well-received by fellow fans.

Gwy added that ALAMAT’s foreign fans also reassure them that they don’t need to rush their work: “They’re never demanding and they constantly compliment us.”

“It really feels nice kapag nakikita kong na-enjoy nila at grateful pa ‘yung mga international fans sa pag-translate namin (when I see that they enjoy our content and that international fans are grateful for what we do). I think it’s one of the reasons why I keep doing it, even though it’s tiring at times.” 

Janelle shared that some fans have even offered her monetary gifts as a way to thank her, while foreign video reactors on YouTube also give her shoutouts on their platform.

“To be honest, being a P-pop translator is not a job, so it’s given that whatever we do for SB19 is not paid. But we do it because we want to and we have fans benefiting from it,” the members of the SB19 Translation Team explained.

More than the validation from foreign audiences, though, Gwy said that having local culture represented in mainstream Philippine media is also encouraging for a lot of P-pop fans. She recalled how “impactful” it was, for instance, to have heard one of her native languages in ALAMAT’s songs.

“Seeing yourself finally be represented in a way that’s done so masterfully and respectfully…does heal a part of you that you didn’t know was hurting in the first place,” she said.

Hindi ko naman alam before na kailangan ko pala ng ganitong representation (I didn’t know before that I needed this kind of representation). But the moment I had that – a positive representation of who I was, a part of my identity, of my culture, feeling ko parang ang saya-saya ko (I felt so happy). I found peace in it.” –

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