Following my colleague Chiara’s interesting post about dubbing and subtitling a few days ago, I would like to complement it today by writing this article ‘subbed or dubbed’ considering some of the pros and cons of these practices:

Those who support subtitling consider that when watching a film or a TV program dubbed into another language, it becomes devalued, less authentic and part of film’s artistic value is lost. Besides, the quality of the actress or actor’s performance is not conveyed in the same way in a dubbed movie, as their interpretation of emotional, comical or dramatic scenes is perceived and felt much better by the audience in its original version. Another advantage to subtitling is the benefit it has for people learning the original language.

Each country made the choice between dubbing and subtitling in the late 20’s and early 30’s, when films with sound were introduced to cinema, and some countries chose the dubbing for the release of foreign films. This choice was mainly due to financial and political reasons linked to the nationalism and censorship typical of the time, as a way of strengthening identity and maintaining some control over the material.

Many countries, Spain for instance, have a long history of dubbing, and there are some excellent voice actors and translators (Spain is considered to have one of the best dubbing industries in the world) However, it is not easy to find a public television station broadcasting a movie not dubbed into Spanish or a cinema providing subtitled screenings. So whoever wants to watch a new film in the original language has no choice but to wait until the movie comes out on DVD.

Among the arguments against subtitled movies are the invasion of screen space, which disrespects the graphic artist and the film director’s original intention, as well as the visual distraction of trying to keep up with reading what the characters are saying while paying attention to what’s happening on the screen, as a result missing part of the onscreen action, especially when you don’t know a word of the original spoken language.

Given the variety of opinions, I think it is fair enough to leave that decision up to the audience, give them the right to choose between watching films in the original or dubbed version.

New technology is making that possible. Thankfully, many dubbing and subtitling programmes have been developed in the film industry, and a lot has changed on TV too: some TV systems (mostly in pay TV though), now offer the possibility of choosing a language, setting up subtitles, the language of the subtitles, and so on.

In closing, I’ll let you know that France, Spain, Germany, Russia and Italy are the only countries in Europe which prefer dubbing better over subtitling, whereas the subtitling countries include Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the UK, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden. Here, people got used from an early age to watching everything in the original version, and only animated movies or TV programs intended for children are dubbed.

Please add to this list of pros and cons in the comments section. Which side are you on?