Creating and Transcribing Videos in Chinese

dotSUB is a site that lets you subtitle youtube videos.

Dotsub is a website service that lets you subtitle YouTube videos.

[This is a guest post by Peng Yu, a visiting Chinese language instructor at William & Mary. In it, he talks about how the project he did for his Rich Media Grant turned out.]

Thanks to the Rich Media Grant in fall semester 2012, the Chinese 201 students here at W&M had a chance to document their efforts to learn a so-called “most difficult” language, and to demonstrate how well they mastered the language in video format. By December 5th, 2012, the students had filmed and transcribed 23 videos.

All the videos had three features in common:

  • Real life setting — Each video was filmed in a real-life situation, such as a student dorm, library, campus, the Sunken Garden, local restaurant, Colonial Williamsburg, etc. Languages are supposed to be used in real life.
  • Native speaker involvement — Each team invited at least one of their Chinese friends to participate in the video. Otherwise, why did they have to use Chinese to communicate?
  • Transcription by another team — When students were preparing their videos, they were asked very specifically not to use any form of scripts. They should actually “use” the language in a meaningful way instead of memorizing their lines. So, when they finished their video, they didn’t really have any subtitles. Another team transcribed the video and made the subtitles.

I still remember the Monday before Thanksgiving break when my students showed their videos. They made it, and in an excellent way! Although I witnessed their entire production process, even talking to each group to discuss their scenarios, I still could not believe what an amazing job they’d done when I actually watched their videos.


The technologies for this project were quite simple:

  • Camcorder — flip camera, digital camera which can shoot short videos, anything readily available for students
  • Video editing software — not specified, anything that students have access to or anything that they are familiar with
  • YouTube — a storage site for completed videos
  • Dotsub — a user-friendly Web-based subtitling tool, compatible with any YouTube video

Although there were some complaints about how time-consuming the video editing was, all teams presented their video in a “professional” way — with sound effects, flying characters, well-selected music, etc. All evidence proved that they were not afraid of using technologies. They live their life in a technology-surrounded environment.

What Worked Well and What Might Be Improved

Real-life setting and native speaker involvement ensured the language usage is meaningful and the communicative task is authentic. Students moved their language learning and practicing beyond the classroom.

Clear project description and objectives were a good start to motivate students. Detailed requirements and individual group meetings made sure everything was on the right track. A timetable was used to guide the pace. And a rubric was used to evaluate the end product. All these elements were essential to implement a productive project.

If the project is to be repeated, some technology workshops might be helpful for students. After all, the goal is not to assess their technology skills; rather, it is to encourage more real language usage in communication. And an example video may communicate expectations more directly before the project starts. Also, students need longer time to prepare, produce and edit their video.