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Full Guide on How to Best Use YouTube's Automatic Subtitles

Learn how to get automatic YouTube subtitles for any video!. Our guide shares best practices for quick and accurate YouTube subtitles.
Ortal Hadad
Content Specialist & Blog Editor
Last Updated:
October 31, 2023
Reviewed by
Ortal Hadad

Subtitles are a game-changer for creators. Not only do they help with SEO, but they also ensure your videos reach a diverse audience.

That’s why podcasters, teachers, journalists, and more use YouTube’s automatic subtitles.

But using subtitles on YouTube takes more than simply pressing a button. Unfortunately, YouTube’s auto-captioning tech is still prone to inaccuracy and mistakes. For best results, you’ll need to know how to optimize your videos for transcription and how to edit subtitles to match your end product better. 

In this article, we’ll show you how to make the most of YouTube’s automatic subtitles. Then, we’ll share an alternative to consider for even higher-quality results.

Does YouTube automatically generate subtitles?

In general, when you upload a video, YouTube automatically captions it.

You may have to wait a day or two before your captions are ready, though—especially for long videos.

If it’s been a couple of days and YouTube hasn’t auto-generated captions, it could be that:

  • The video is too long
  • The sound quality is poor
  • YouTube doesn’t support the language
  • The video contains multiple languages 
  • The video contains overlapping speech

In some such cases, YouTube still auto-transcribes the video, though it may take longer than usual. But when videos are too complex, YouTube won’t auto-generate subtitles.

The easiest place to fix inaccurate captions is at their source—sound quality. Additionally, record in a quiet area and ask speakers to enunciate.

Pro tip: For best results, record your video using higher-quality recording software like Riverside. Riverside’s software records crystal-clear 48 kHz WAV audio with automatic background noise removal. 

Last, before recording, verify that YouTube supports your language.

Benefits of adding subtitles to YouTube videos

There are two reasons to add automatic captions to YouTube videos: accessibility and SEO (search engine optimization).

Captioning YouTube videos increases accessibility in several ways. It can make videos accessible to those who are hard of hearing or to those who don’t speak the same language as the video you’re posting.  This also lets your audience watch videos on mute if they’re in public, or it can help them understand quieter scenes.

And since YouTube auto subtitles are text, they help your video rank in search engine results. Most search engines’ algorithms rank by looking for keywords in your content. This means subtitle help Google find terms and then rank your content for relevant search queries.  

YouTube adds a CC icon to the bottom of videos with captions. Many creators find that simply seeing that icon encourages their audience to watch the video.

Discovery Digital Networks recently conducted a controlled study to test that theory. They found that views increased by 7.32% for captioned videos. The increase was even more dramatic in the first two weeks after the team captioned the videos—13.48%.

This study supports the creators’ observation that more people click on videos with subtitles.

How to use YouTube’s auto subtitles and captions

We’ve convinced you that it’s important to add subtitles and captions to your videos, right? Now we’ll tell you how to do that for both live and pre-recorded content.

As we’ve explained, YouTube automatically generates subtitles for most videos. However, they aren’t always accurate, so you may have to correct mistakes manually. You may also want to add subtitles in multiple languages.

Both video owners and viewers can add subtitles, though only owners can edit and approve them. We’ll start by explaining how this works for owners.

As video owner

If you want to caption your own YouTube video, follow these steps:

Step 1: Log in to your YouTube account.

Step 2: Click your profile photo in the upper right corner.

Step 3: Select ‘YouTube Studio’.

Step 4: Select ‘Subtitles’ on the left vertical menu.

Step 5: Choose the video you want to caption.

Step 6: Select the Set language dropdown menu to choose the language you wish the captions to appear in. You can also check the box to select whether you want that language to be the default for your channel. Click Confirm.

Step 7: Add subtitles in another language by selecting Add Language, choosing your language, then clicking Add. YouTube will automatically translate your video into that language.

Step 8: Wait one or two days, then click Duplicate and Edit on the right to see YouTube’s transcript. It will contain no punctuation.

Adding a caption to a YouTube video

Step 9: Add punctuation and correct mistakes in the transcript.

Step 10: Click Assign Timings at the top of the page. Make sure the captions appear at the right times in the video. If they don’t, adjust the timing.

Step 11: Select Publish at the top right.

If you simply want to correct YouTube’s auto-generated subtitles in the video’s original language, follow steps 1–6. Then skip to step 8. You won’t have to wait a few days unless you’ve just uploaded the video.

Pro tip: Correct YouTube’s auto-generated captions after finishing other video edits, not before. Otherwise, your audio may not match your captions. For example, if you remove 10 seconds from the video, the captions will lag 10 seconds behind the audio. Riverside uses multi-sync editing, however, so if you’re using our tool, you won’t have to worry about lagging. 

Want to know how to use YouTube’s auto subtitles as a viewer? Read on!

As a viewer

Some older videos don’t have closed captions enabled. That’s because YouTube didn’t always auto-generate subtitles. But if a video is newer, you as a viewer can simply click the CC icon to see subtitles.

You can also see subtitles in a different language. Follow these steps:

Step 1: Go to your profile settings and select Playback and performance. Check the box next to Include auto-generated captions (when available). You should only have to change this setting once.

turning on YouTube auto subtitles as a viewer

Step 2: Then, navigate to the video whose captions you want to see. Select the cog icon in the bottom right. Select Subtitles/CC.

Step 3: Click your language, then click Auto-translate.

Step 4: You’ll see a list of every language the owner has enabled. Choose the one you want. 

Watching a YouTube video with automatic subtitles

How to add automatic captions and subtitles for a live YouTube stream

YouTube can also auto-transcribe live streams. Here’s how to go live with captions:

Step 1: Log in to your YouTube account.

Step 2: Select Create on the top right.

Step 3: Select Go Live.

Step 4: Choose ‘Stream’ on the left-hand menu.

Step 5: In ‘Stream Settings’, turn on ‘closed captions’.

Step 6: Select Automatic Captions.

Step 7: Choose your language.

You will need to follow these steps every time you stream a video. You can’t turn the setting on for your entire channel.

YouTube’s auto-transcriptions are currently only available in English. And YouTube is still rolling out live captions, so they may not be available on your channel yet

If live captions are available for your channel but aren’t working, it could be that:

  • You’re streaming in low latency. Switch to normal.
  • Your video isn’t in English
  • The sound quality is poor
  • There are multiple languages in your video
  • Speakers are talking over each other

For all those reasons, it’s best to enable YouTube auto subtitles on only the clearest live streams.

How accurate are YouTube’s automatic subtitles?

YouTube’s automatic subtitles are notoriously slow and inaccurate.

In the example above, YouTube wildly mistranslated what the speaker said. And that happens often.

We’ll share a little tidbit about YouTube live streaming to emphasize that point. YouTube encourages creators to create and send captions to YouTube before a live stream. Why?

It’s because YouTube’s auto-transcription accuracy is so bad. And you can’t fix errors during a live stream.

Kansas State University estimates that YouTube’s automatic captions are only 60–70% accurate on average.

Why does that matter, you ask? Well if someone is watching your video without audio, you'd want to make sure you're getting the right message accross.

A more accurate alternative: Creating subtitles with Riverside

Adding automatic subtitles to YouTube content on Riverside

We recommend Riverside as an alternative to YouTube’s automatic captions. 

Riverside is a recording, editing, and transcription software for all content creators. 

With Riverside, you control your recording quality from start to finish. And that quality will be the very highest because Riverside records in up to 4K video and 48 kHz WAV audio. As we’ve mentioned, a higher-quality video means higher-quality subtitles. And since Riverside records locally to your device, the final quality of your recording doesn’t rely on the quality of your internet connection.

Riverside’s highly-accurate AI video transcriptions are available in 100+ languages, meaning you can have auto-generated captions instantly after finishing recording, with no extra effort. You can even use our text-based editor to remove text from the transcription—and the editor will automatically remove the matching words from the recording. It’s almost magic. 

Key Features

  • AI transcriptions with Improved speed and accuracy
  • Captions available in 100+ languages
  • Captions differentiate between speakers, making it easier for your audience to understand what’s happening
  • Text-based editing so you can use your transcripts to trim your videos as easily as easy as reading through some text
  • Automatic background noise cancellation for clearer audio and even more accurate transcriptions
  • Record separate tracks for each participant for easy post-production process
  • Multisync editing lets you edit transcriptions without worrying about a video lag 
  • Export video transcripts in SRT and TXT formats for maximum flexibility with hosting platforms  
  • Add captions directly to your video and style their font, size and position
  • Turn your long form recordings into multiple Shorts, all at the tap of a button with our AI Magic Clips tool

Compared to YouTube, Riverside offers:

  • Captions instantly after recording (instead of waiting days to receive them)
  • Little to no time spent editing
  • Text-based editing (instead of having to complete all video edits before creating captions)

Want to get a taste of what Riverside can do? You can try our free transcription tool and experience our fast, accurate subtitles for yourself.

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FAQs on YouTube Automatic Subtitles

Why are my automatic subtitles not appearing on YouTube?

Your automatic subtitles will not appear on YouTube if your video is too long. Other reasons include poor sound quality or speakers talking over each other.

You should also use only one language in a video. Make sure YouTube supports that language.

How do I turn on automatic subtitles on YouTube?

To turn on YouTube’s auto-generated subtitles as a viewer, navigate to your account settings.  Select Playback and performance, then check the box next to Include auto-generated captions (when available). You should only have to change this setting once.

As the YouTube video creator, log into your YouTuve account and click on your profile photo. Select YouTube Studio, then Subtitles. Select the video you want to caption, then select the Set language dropdown menu to choose the language. Click Confirm.

How long does it take for automatic subtitles to appear on YouTube?

On average, it takes one or two days for YouTube’s auto subtitles to appear.

If your video is long or the dialogue is complex, it takes longer.

Do YouTube videos with subtitles get more views?

In a recent study, views increased by 7.32% when creators added subtitles to YouTube videos. Viewers appreciate seeing that CC icon!

Adding captions to videos is a simple way to reach a wider audience. 

Make an account at to start producing professional video captions today.

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