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The Subtitle / Dubbing Dilemma

Teaching abroad gives me a great opportunity to weigh in on the subtitle / dubbing debate. When I started, it was news to me that many countries around the world do show international tv and movies, but not all are dubbed; instead there are subtitles in the local language for most everything except movies intended for kids. I suspect it is first of all more expensive to dub, but there is also the point that the end product is considered by many better when you can still hear the actors own voice and intonation… and their lips move correctly with the words.

If all tv were dubbed into the local language – I probably wouldn’t watch it! But a perfect example of the dubious nature of dubbing is that famous Sarkozy – Royal debate. (“You must be calm to be president!” “ I get angry when I see injustice!”) I saw it on CNN with what I suspect was recorded simultaneous translation, not real dubbing. To be fair, simultaneous translation is hard, so I found a genuinely dubbed YouTube video of it to compare. Contrast it with the subtitled version (start at about 3:30 for the “heated” portion). Case closed!

Foreign language subtitles on a movie in your own language can also be great for adding to your vocabulary, especially if you already have some of the basics down. As language teachers we all know the benefits of being in a class and being pressed to use the language as well as take it in, but that’s not always a practical reality; watching a movie in your own language with local language subtitles is kind of an extra.

On the theme of subtitles, head on over to EFL Geek for his lesson on Prison Break to see how he used Korean and English subtitles in class. Do you get subtitled tv or are you faced with dubbing in your location?