Monday, 16 April, 2012 - 08:20

Subtitles vs. Dubbing

by Miranda Clark

Watching a film, whether in the cinema or at home, is often relaxing, exhilarating, uplifting and something that I, and millions of other film goers, will never tire of. Cinema, otherwise known as « the seventh art », began in France when the Lumières brothers held their first private screening of projected motion pictures in 1895.  Since then, our senses have been spoiled with an evolution of colour, sound, animation and 3D effects.  We now have DVDs and the internet to watch whatever we like, whenever we’d like to, but what still strikes me when watching films abroad is the division between foreign films in their original version with subtitles and foreign films that are dubbed.  With subtitles, the motion picture and sound track continue with the addition of a written translation of what is being said. With dubbing, the pictures are unaltered, but the sound track is mostly replaced by a translation spoken over the original dialogue by voice-over actors. In Europe, France, Spain, Germany, Russia and Italy tend to prefer dubbing, whereas Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom, Greece, Holland, Norway, Portugal and Sweden seem to prefer subtitles. Have you ever considered which you prefer and why ?

As a keen language learner, I enjoy watching films in their original language with subtitles, so that I can still understand what is going on but also pick up some new vocabulary, or at least familiarise myself with pronunciation.  Subtitles may preserve the film in its original language but do they distract you too much from the film? It is bound to be difficult to communicate everything said by a character in a few seconds, so what if the translation doesn’t convey exactly what is being said? Does it matter if we are missing out on the nuances? Dubbing is comparatively more expensive as voice-over actors have to be hired, thus only ‘blockbuster’ films tend to be dubbed to justify the cost. It could be argued that dubbed film reach more people: children, dyslexics, the blind, those who cannot read and those with poor vision. However, if a film becomes dubbed into another language then it could be seen as devalued, less authentic and part of the film’s artistic value is lost. The quality of the actor or actress’ performance may not be conveyed in the same way, as it is down to the interpretation of emotional, comical or dramatic scenes. What's more, dubbing varies from country to country and some bilingual actors even do their own dubbing. In France and Germany, a voice-over actor dubs a specific foreign actor in all of their films. In contrast, in Poland, a narrator does the voice-overs for all of the characters on a foreign-language TV series or film. Would you find this strange?

There is no right or wrong answer to how we should watch foreign films; subtitles allow you to HEAR the film as it was intended; dubbed to SEE it as it was intended. Does the choice of both attract wider audiences or will one always be more popular than the other? Have a think which one you prefer and let us know!


So, what's your answer to Miranda's question? Subtitles or dubbing? Let us know which one you prefer and why.

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