Captioning Corner: Spanish captioners in the U.S.

By Deanna Baker

I have done a bit of research on this topic and have found this information. The only training as such that I found was at the National Captioning Institute, which employs five full-time Spanish captioners writing a variety of programming.

I asked these questions of Jim Hall, Supervisor, Realtime Captioning:

Is NCI's Spanish captioning training available to the public or for employees only?

NCI only provides training for employees. The reason is pretty simple; we pay our trainees. It's a very long-term investment in terms of time and money on the part of both the company and the trainee.

What are the prerequisites for this program?

The trainee must be bilingual, completely fluent in Spanish. So far, at least, that means someone who learned Spanish from his or her parents. For some of our captioners, English was actually their second language.

He or she must also be a graduate of regular English steno school. The reason for this is because our steno theory is based on English theory, and it also shows that the person has the necessary manual skill and required perseverance to complete the training. Also, since there is little other use for Spanish steno in this country at this point, it means that the person we hire does have the option of pursuing a career as an English court reporter if he decides that captioning is not for him.

How long is the training, what is involved, and where are the Spanish captioners located?

My usual response to this question is that training never actually ends. There will be new things, new challenges, and even new words that come up all the time. This is true of captioning generally, both English and Spanish.

To answer your question more directly, however, in general I expect that the training process will take about nine months to a year before the captioner is ready to debut on air. Of course, the training continues beyond that, as I say.

Training materials are not readily available, so we make use of a variety of things, such as audiotapes and videotapes from courses designed to teach Spanish to English speakers. The captioners work one-on-one with me initially and eventually progress to working with one of the other staff members. Most of the practice, however, as in English court reporting school, is done by the employee without direct supervision, so we are also looking for a self-directed, highly motivated person for this position.

For the foreseeable future, any new Spanish captioner will be working in our Dallas, Texas, office.

What is the current and future need for Spanish captioners?

This is difficult for me to predict, as it depends partly on the growth of Spanish broadcasting in the United States. The Spanish stations were not exempted from the FCC mandate for captioning, but were given extra time to comply.

I would foresee a more or less steady growth over the next several years, at least. The need for highly qualified captioners -- English as well as Spanish -- will increase. How large of an increase it will be remains to be seen, dependent partly on how many new Spanish broadcasts there are and what type of broadcasts they are.

How does the pay scale relate to English captioners?

At NCI we eventually arrived at the conclusion that their base pay should be approximately the same as English captioners. On the one hand, they have a skill that other captioners do not. However, they also require a very long training period compared to the English captioners, during which they are paid but are not producing captioning.

For more information about NCI's training, you can contact Hall at

Non-Realtime and Non-U.S. Sources
Various other captioning companies are reporting that there are about a dozen freelance Spanish captioners throughout the U.S. I didn't find exact numbers, but that is close. They are working as independent contractors for the various captioning companies.

Jack Spellman, operations manager of realtime captioning for The Caption Center, WGBH in Boston, had this to say: "Caption Center currently is providing Spanish-language captions live at time of broadcast to 60 Minutes (both the Sunday and Wednesday editions). These captions are produced by Spanish-speaking staff in advance of broadcast, working from scripts (dependably accurate) we receive from the producers.

"We currently don't have realtime Spanish capability on staff, " Spellman continued. "Occasionally when we are asked to provide true realtime Spanish captions (as opposed to pre-produced captions sent live at time of broadcast), we contract with one of a couple of Argentina-based caption agencies with whom we've had a pretty good experience to cover the event."

I also discovered a product that takes the English captions and converts to Spanish simultaneously. That information is available at .


About the Author

Deanna Baker, RMR, is from Flagstaff, Ariz. If you have a question about captioning, you can ask her at