Subbing vs. Dubbing -- usually not a choice

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/04/21 07:01 -04:00, original URI:

Earlier this year, Kenji Crosland guest wrote a blog over on Brave New Words titled Subbed vs. Dubbed: Where do you stand?.

The article is a good read and goes through many of the issues related to the differences behind the scenes in translations of films via subtitles vs. dubbing the voices (subbed vs. dubbed):

One interesting factor about the piece is that Kenji included his own preferences on the matter:

If I had a choice, I’d probably choose subtitles over dubbing most of the time. In some movies, however, the subtitles can be so distracting from the action that you’ll spend more time reading than actually watching--especially when you don’t know one word of the original language (I had this experience with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”).

My guess is that most people prefer subtitles to dubbed movies. I’m wondering, however, if the vote wouldn’t turn out differently if more time and money was spent improving the quality of dubbed films. So what do you think? Subbed or Dubbed?

The interesting part of that question in the context of the web is that if you think of each country/region as a separate market, clear trends pop up on an almost per-market basis which is most commonly preferred.

This begs the question a bit since it is just as likely that what someone sees the most of is what they prefer as saying that the general user preference drove the original "decisions" to prefer one over the other.

One would not only have a hard time discerning which answer is "right"; one would probably be forced to admit that both factors play a role. This makes the overall question "which do you prefer?" a little suspicious since the question is so hard to separate from where you live and what you see most often that not mentioning it leaves one unable to determine how carefully the issue was considered.

As a matter of course I always turn on closed captioning on my television, so even my English movies have the English words right there. and I notice everything -- the mistakes that maybe were seen years go but never corrected, the times that the person doing the captions might have been basing the work on the script while the actor changed the words said, and the times that things are not included to avoid the "too much text" problem. Although the two technologies (closed captions and subtitles) work to do two very different things, they share some of the very same issues in terms of the compromises (without the choice of dubbing!).

And inevitably that thought leads me back to the subbing vs. dubbing question, and the fact that it is so seldom an issue that one gets to make a choice on personally, even if the question is asked that way. I'd like to see the results of a complex study into the differences per market in which is done and why. And although I wonder what people think I know that a blog is probably not the way to attack the problem with any kind of scientific accuracy.

Which do I prefer between subbing and dubbing? Whichever one someone took the time to do for what is on the screen, of course. :-)

Mihai on 21 Apr 2011 9:52 AM:

For me, always subbing, than you very much.

And I think it is a cultural thing.

When I grew up, everything was subbed, with the exception of some cartoons (and not all).

So I had to learn how to deal with it since about the second grade. Kids were expected to read for themselves. In fact, when I had problems keeping up with reading the subtitles, and complained that are too fast (3rd grade), my parents took me to the oculist. And that's how we discovered I have myopia and got glasses :-)

At this point reading subbing is fast and automatic, and it does not feel like it gets in the way at all. To the point that recently I watched a Romanian movie with English subtitle, and had trouble following the Romanian.

What I see as benefits:

- I get to hear the original soundtrack. When you see an actor that got an Oscar for a role, isn't the voice and his tone a big part of that best actor award?

- Get to learn some of the original language better (if it is one you want to speak)

Mihai on 21 Apr 2011 9:54 AM:

And btw subbing/dubbing/culture: if you ever go to Brussels to a movie, you have to pay attention to what show you go to. They have French and Dutch shows.

But the French ones are dubbed in French, while the "Dutch" ones have the original soundtrack, with subbing in Dutch AND French.

JW on 21 Apr 2011 6:41 PM:

Definitely subbing. While this preference has grown out of an incorrigible anime habit, I find it to mesh with normal movies even more-so. I have experience with German, French, Chinese and Japanese filmed movies. There's several reasons for this preference of mine, which are listed below.

First of all, translators misunderstand movies, and sometimes make horrible translation choices because they do not know related material well enough (movie set in an existing universe, for example).

Second, translators try to make movies fit some sort of pre-conceived mold. (This might go a bit beyond dubbing, but it is still the same issue imo.) I have experienced this mainly with anime and the American market. One of the best examples is one of the more popular Japanese anime series called One Piece, which got picked up by an American licensor who censored the crap out of the story to the point where things made no sense, all in order to make the story more suitable for younger children. Cigarettes were replaced with lollypops, bullets with suction cups, cutting out story arcs, etc. The english voice actors made the characters sound like total idiots, and while I understand some jokes do not translate,  However, this has ruined the series in the entire english speaking market, and has continuously lost viewers, interest etc. It took many years for another licensor to pop up, take up more recent episodes, and finally start showing the actual story. I hear that dub is good, but they still offer a sub that a lot of people use - but the franchise has been crippled forever by the 'kiddie stigma' the first licensor gave it. To get back on track: once they mess with audio, there exists a temptation to mess with far more than just a proper translation. In more general words, it can be said a director did something in a certain way because he felt it best for the material. (If this material comes to your market for you to dub, you have to wonder why that is, and whether your motivating marketshare would want you to wreck it. There is a reason a huge fansubbing communities exist in the anime world, and it is not just for speed.)

Third, we are people. We know when a voice sounds that does not belong with a certain set of lips (belonging to filmed footage). And it is horribly JARRING. Not to mention that most voice actors lack the quality to properly give the voice the inflection needed to fit the character  in the scene, were we to ignore the lack of synchronisation between lips and voice.

Sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent there. :) I think countries that speak major languages as their first language are sort of handicapped in this discussion, actually. They are always used to hearing everything in their own language. They tend to think subtitles are the same thing as closed captioning, and shrug them off because they 'don't need to see it written that rain is clattering against the window'. Compare it to languages with a smaller amount of speakers, and you'll find they are far more used to subtitles. (Being dutch, I tend to think I belong to that category.) Around here, only the stuff aimed at young children gets dubbed for as far I can tell. On one occasion, I have noticed a cartoon that used to be broadcast years earlier in the original english with a dutch dub (which jarred me enough to take notice of the fact, despite not remembering the original english voices.) In the end, I think subtitles aren't read, but that they are instead scanned in a similar way one would glance over backgrounds, clothing and the sort. Wall of text ends here.

Mmx on 22 Apr 2011 1:58 AM:

Dubbed of course!!

That said, I live in Italy where everything is dubbed, AND we have very good dubbers.

Maurits [MSFT] on 4 May 2011 8:53 PM:

I tend to watch with captions turned on even if the thing I'm watching is in English.

Once my family and I were watching Sailor Moon R, dubbed, with captions on.  There were some mismatches but I didn't think much of it. Then we got to a scene where the five schoolgirls are sitting around the table chatting.

The dubbed conversation was something about how much they all liked junk food.  The captions were discussing the sexual orientation of the male lead.

Van on 6 May 2011 11:30 PM:

I'm a sub man, myself. I think that has quite a bit to do with watching anime in college, having taken Japanese in high school; when you know the language somewhat, you can get subtleties from the dialogue that you can piece together with the subbing, but would never get from dubbed dialogue alone. Which brings me to my second point: in my experience, subs almost always more faithfully render the original dialogue than dubs do.

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