Hazardous Effects of Dubbing

Ok, maybe not hazardous, but the effects sure are annoying. France dubs almost all foreign TV shows and movies into French instead of leaving the original spoken language and adding subtitles. I absolutely hate it because the lips don’t match the words, the voices don’t match the actors, and it’s really distracting when the French voice of Gibbs is also the voice of Bones’ dad! (Are there really not enough voice actors in France for all the shows?)

It is much, much cheaper to subtitle than to dub, it helps people learn foreign languages, and it keeps the original work closer to its intended form. So why do countries insist on spending extra money on dubbing? To create a few more voice acting jobs? Because the general population doesn’t like to read? I would really like to know the reasons because it makes no sense to me.

The last time I went to the movies, five out of six of them were American and dubbed into French. It got me thinking about growing up in a country where most of the entertainment is from a different country (usually America), and having to watch everything dubbed. Would it annoy me? Would I just get used to it? I have never watched a foreign movie dubbed into English so I don’t know what it’s like to hear your native language, but know that everything about the movie is completely foreign and different. What do the French think about American high school movies? Don’t they find it weird when the characters talk about things that don’t even exist in France, like cheerleaders or Prom? I know these words translate into French (pom-pom girl and bal de la fin de l’année) but do the French really know what they are? Or why they’re so prevalent in American culture and entertainment?

Another thing I don’t understand is when people say that a certain actor is their favorite actor ever, and yet they have never heard his real voice. The voice is so important!! Even the body language can’t be conveyed or interpreted the same since that’s highly dependent on culture. Are they simply referring to his physical look or perhaps to the French voice? (A lot of the really famous American actors have the same French voice actor for all of their movies so they can be more recognizable.)

Of course, the main reason I prefer subtitles is for their effect on listening comprehension in other languages. Scandinavian and Dutch learners of English always outperform French, German, Spanish and Italian learners of English. Hmm, I wonder why? Last year only about 5-10% of my students said they ever watched movies in English, and it certainly showed in their listening and speaking abilities.

Countries in red do dubbing, those in blue do subtitles (with some dubbing for childrens’ programs).

I know I’m a bit biased being a language teacher/linguist who highly values listening comprehension in order to learn proper pronunciation and who views audio-visual input such as television and films as major language learning tools that everyone should utilize. Unfortunately, I also know there are some people out there who don’t actually want to/refuse to learn another language or culture.  I’d like to think even if I weren’t so passionate about foreign languages, I would still prefer subtitles to dubbing for the simple reason that it doesn’t destroy the authenticity. It’s just a few words at the bottom of the screen.

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  • http://www.inglesparaleigos.com Ueritom Ribeiro Borges

    Here in Brazil most foreign movies have both options (dubbed and subtitled movies). It’s up to every person to choose which one they will watch. Anyway, I keep preferring subtitled movies, because I can hear the original voices, and also because I understand almost everything. :)

  • Joe

    I’m an American ex-pat that has lived in Paris for the last 10 years. I teach at English speaking international universities and yes, those students from countries where one grows up watching real US TV are twice and thrice proficient in English as the French. France is doing a disservice to its youth by not letting them in on the real thing. Dubbed TV is harmful in distorting culture,
    and harmful in reinforcement of the pseudo importance of local languages of small countries. Let’s all live together in an English speaking world — that’s the way to get thoughts exchanged, work done, and love spread about.

  • Woz

    I disagree here. I became conversational in Spanish in a matter of months by rewatching all my favorite shows in a Spanish dub. I’ve got friends who think it’s tacky and inauthentic but – hey – it works. Admittedly it might not be of much use for the beginner, but for the intermediate learner, it can be an invaluable tool to improve your listening skills. Most importantly, it teaches you how to say things that are familiar in your target language.

    On the other hand, learning Swedish is harder since they use subtitles instead of dubs, so it’s harder to figure out how words are pronounced. That’s a reason why I watch a lot of cartoons, which thankfully are still dubbed.

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Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In January 2010, I started focusing more on teaching and learning languages in general. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at the university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling (though now my trips are usually in Australia) and being an American abroad.

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