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Subtitling vs Dubbing

We live in a world full of audiovisual media, whether that’s TV shows, movies, YouTube videos or TikToks. Some of the content you watch could have been translated. Two of the main ways that this is done are subtitling and dubbing.


What’s the difference?


Subtitling is where you add text to a piece of audiovisual material to allow people to read what is being said in the audio. This can also be done for the deaf and hard of hearing and can also involve a translation of the audio into another language for a new audience.


Dubbing is where the audio is translated and original voices are replaced by recordings in a new language for a new audience.


Both are common methods for targeting audiovisual material towards a new audience, but which is better and why do some countries choose one over the other?




Why do some countries prefer subtitling and others prefer dubbing?


Across Europe, most countries have a variety of both subtitled and dubbed foreign content, but some countries lean more towards subtitling and others towards dubbing. Traditionally, countries with more minority languages, such as the Netherlands and much of Scandinavia, would opt for subtitling to save costs, whereas countries like Germany and Spain would opt for dubbing. Children’s shows are an exception and are dubbed in most countries since children may not have a high enough reading level.


Have you ever thought about audiovisual translation in your country? Or whether you have a preference for subtitling or dubbing? I recently did a poll on my Instagram story and of the 30 people who voted, I found 26 prefer watching foreign films subtitled and only 4 prefer to watch foreign films dubbed. Obviously, this is just a very small sample, but I did find the result interesting. More than half of those votes were Brits and, until recently, most of the foreign audiovisual content marketed in the UK is subtitled, so that may have had an effect.

La Casa de Papel


Subtitling is more common than dubbing in both the UK and the US, perhaps due to poor dubbing in the 70s, but Netflix is trying to change that. I recently read an article by the New York Times stating that ‘Netflix wants to make its dubbed foreign shows less dubby’, i.e., provide better quality dubbing that does not feel unnatural and awkward. (You can read the article here). The article looks at the popular 2017 Spanish show, ‘La Casa de Papel’ or ‘Money Heist’, which has been dubbed in English. To be honest, when I first started watching the series, it took me a little while to get used to the dubbing – I think it is the first show I have seen which is dubbed in English. But, after a while I got into it and stopped noticing the dubbing. I think the fact that the dubbing actors speak with Spanish accents gives the show that extra depth and brings people a little closer to the original culture.


Personally, I prefer to watch foreign content with subtitles. I enjoy hearing the original audio and picking up little bits of different languages – but maybe that’s just because I’m an audiovisual translator.


Fun fact: I have a secret obsession with Korean dramas and now know how to say things like ‘sorry’ and ‘I love you’ in Korean.

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