Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Subtitling or Dubbing: Any Thoughts?


I spent much of last week at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, watching some brilliant documentaries and listening to representatives from the international film and TV industry. Of all the interesting things I heard, one idea particularly stuck in my mind. At a panel session with commissioners from television channels all over the world, the suggestion was made that filmmakers should seriously consider dubbing, rather than subtitling, any foreign-language content in their work. Why? Because studies have shown that a large proportion of viewers will go online using their tablet, smartphone or computer while watching TV, and therefore won’t be able to understand what is being said because they won’t be looking at the screen.

Maybe I’m being old fashioned, but I find that a little depressing. Have our concentration spans become so short that we can’t concentrate on one thing for an hour or even 30 minutes? Granted, we are talking about television here, not cinema. Woe betide anyone who tries to play with their phone in a cinema screen if I’m there – I’m English, I know how to give a stern and disapproving look!

I know that, as a linguist, I’m probably biased. I love listening to languages I don’t understand, plus I find it incredibly distracting if the sounds coming from the screen don’t match the movements of the speaker’s mouth. When I lived in Germany and would occasionally watch UK or US films dubbed into German, I’d find myself trying to lip read the English rather than just listen to the German. But do the general public really care either way? Is it only linguists who get worked up about this sort of thing? I’d love to hear what you think!

8 comments:

  1. As far as I'm concerned, I always prefer subtitling to dubbing, mostly for the same reasons you have mentioned, but also for others: lip movement not matching the words is extremely distracting and annoying; I like to compare the translation in the subtitles to the one that involuntarily takes place in my head (for my working languages, of course); learning new words and expressions is impossible with dubbing; some actors' voices simply cannot be dubbed successfully (e.g. Morgan Freeman).

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    1. Hi Alina! You make some more excellent points. Perhaps if you've never heard the actors' original voices it wouldn't bother you so much, but I agree that some people have very distinctive voices. For example, I'm a huge James Bond fan and I could never imagine watching any of those films dubbed into another language.

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  2. As a linguist and someone with a Master's basically in subtitling (well, audiovisual translation but all my audiovisual assignments were on subtitling), I am definitely biased towards subtitling, just as you are, but here's my view anyway:

    Dubbing not only has no impact on your language skills since you have no contact with the original version, but the decision-makers in the translation process also choose strange or inappropriate voices for the dubbing. A recent case in point was the MasterChef final, which took place in Barcelona, where most of the spoken Catalan or Spanish was dubbed into English using people with somehow unrealistic yet heavy Spanish accents. It came across as very patronising, I thought, and I imagine they choose voiceover artists with such voices to make the audience feel closer to the original Spanish/Catalan, but it just made me cringe.

    On a positive note, I believe dubbing is much more expensive than subtitling, as it is much more laborious, and I can't imagine that profit-driven businesses would want to switch to dubbing all their content. Fingers crossed, anyway!

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    1. I don't watch MasterChef, so didn't know about that, but how strange! Surely that runs the risk of accusations of racism? I guess that getting someone to translate the script/write subtitles would be cheaper than translating the script and then paying voiceover artists to record the new version.

      To be honest, I think most of the filmmakers at the festival were on tight budgets, so hopefully they'll all choose subtitling!

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  3. Hi, Sarah!

    Interesting post again on a topic I really care about. As audiovisual translator I totally agree with you. I work both with dubbing and subtitling, and I must say subtitling is completely on a different level for many reasons, such as - as you and the others here have already said - the possibility to listen to the different voices, the different accents, enjoy the actor's laughter, and so on.

    I have always thought dubbing made all productions kind of plain and boring. Same voices, everything sounds kind of fake to me. In Italy everything is dubbed and all dubbing assignments are managed by a couple of major dubbing companies, and that means: we always hear the same old voices for years! Some Italian dubbers are true artists, I must say it... but anyway it's boring!

    The lack of original pieces with subtitles is one of the main reasons Italians are so mediocre at speaking English.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I'm going to share this post on my profiles and spread the word!

    Cheers,

    Valentina of Rockstar Translations

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    1. Hi Valentina,

      Thanks for your comments. It's interesting to hear from people who actually have experience in this field, and from people in other countries. In the UK we are now seeing more subtitled programmes, thanks to the surge in interest in foreign crime series. Sadly, I don't think it's going to boost the general public's interest in learning languages.

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  4. I never watch a dubbed film, if I have a choice. My preference is to a film in the original language with subtitles in that language (usually intended for viewers with impaired hearing) and English subtitles. The most important thing, as in listening to opera, is to hear the inflections in the performers' voices. That only tells you as much, or much, as the literal meaning of their words.

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    1. Hi Frank,

      I completely agree - even if you don't speak the language, you can tell so much from the intonations in a person's voice.

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