Subtitles vs. dubbing and lectoring

Posted on 27. Nov, 2009 by in Our Blog

The two alternative methods of ‘translating’ films in a foreign language are dubbing, in which other actors record over the voices of the original actors in a different language, and lectoring, a form of voice-over for fiction material where a narrator tells the audience what the actors are saying while their voices can be heard in the background. Lectoring is common for television in Russia, Poland, and a few other East European countries, while cinemas in these countries commonly show films dubbed or subtitled.

The preference for dubbing or subtitling in various countries is largely based on decisions taken in the late 1920s and early 1930s. With the arrival of sound film, the film importers in Germany, Italy, France and Spain decided to dub the foreign voices, while the rest of Europe elected to display the dialog as translated subtitles. The choice was largely due to financial reasons (subtitling is inexpensive and quick, while dubbing is very expensive and thus requires a very large audience to justify the cost), but during the 1930s it also became a political preference in Germany, Italy and Spain; an expedient form of censorship that ensured that foreign views and ideas could be stopped from reaching the local audience, as dubbing makes it possible to create a dialogue which is totally different from the original. In Spain the compulsory dubbing was also employed for encouraging the use of Spanish language (Castilian) among non-Spanish-speaking population (languages such as Galician, Catalan and Basque were forbidden and prosecuted during Franco’s dictatorship).

Dubbing is still the norm and favored form in these four countries, but the proportion of subtitling is slowly growing, mainly to save cost and turnaround-time, but also due to a growing acceptance among younger generations, who are better readers and increasingly have a basic knowledge of English (the dominant language in film and TV) and thus prefer to hear the original dialogue.

Nevertheless, in Spain, for example, only public TV channels show subtitled foreign films, usually at late night. It is extremely rare that any Spanish TV channel shows subtitled versions of TV programs, series or documentaries. In addition, only a small proportion of cinemas shows subtitled films. Films talking in Galician, Catalan or Basque are always dubbed, not subtitled, when they are showed in the rest of the country. Some non-Spanish-speaking TV stations subtitle interviews in Spanish; others do not.

In many Latin American countries, local network television will show dubbed versions of English-language programs and movies, while cable stations (often international) more commonly broadcast subtitled material. Preference for subtitles or dubbing varies according to individual taste and reading ability, and theaters may order two prints of the most popular films, allowing moviegoers to chose between dubbing or subtitles. Other Spanish speaking countries that prefer the practice of subtitles are: Bolivia, Cuba, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Argentina, a country now renowned for for it’s new wave of cinema and huge numbers of cinema graduates, is becoming a hot-bed for film and advertising productions, and almost always prefers subtitles. Animation and children’s programming, however, is nearly universally dubbed, as in other regions.

In the traditional subtitling countries, dubbing is generally regarded as something very strange and unnatural and is only used for animated films and TV programs intended for pre-school children. As animated films are “dubbed” even in their original language and ambient noise and effects are usually recorded on a separate sound track, dubbing a low quality production into a second language produces little or no noticeable effect on the viewing experience. In dubbed live-action television or film, however, viewers are often distracted by the fact that the audio does not match the actors’ lip movements. Furthermore, the dubbed voices may seem detached, inappropriate for the character, or overly expressive, and some ambient sounds may not be transferred to the dubbed track, creating a less enjoyable viewing experience.

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2 Responses to “Subtitles vs. dubbing and lectoring”

  1. Argentinian TV Online 3 January 2010 at %I:%M %p #

    Hi, how do i add your site to my rss reader?? I am using “Google Reader”, but it is not working!!

  2. Osama Almsri 4 June 2011 at %I:%M %p #


    I’m looking for Spanish dubbing services, may I know if you do that.


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