Subtitle vs. Dubbing

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Subtitle vs. Dubbing


There are different languages across the world not only across boundaries but also within a country. As time goes by the world is becoming highly interconnected and therefore the issue of foreign entertainment has become of great importance. Language is a factor in determining one's territory of entertainment and in most cases, people will like to have a taste of foreign entertainment but language will always stand on their way. The known ways of overcoming this barrier are learning the language, film subtitles and film dubbing. The later two are the most preferred since their implementation does not depend on the viewer of the film but the filmmakers and distributors bears the extra cost. Dubbing is the process of adding or replacing the original voices in film with different voices and is one of the post-production processes. Dubbing can be for translating the language used in the film or matching the film with the viewers. On the other hand, subtitles are textual version of the conversation in a film or a television program. In the translation of foreign language or in representing the original language used in the film subtitles are used.

Why Subtitles?

The choice between subtitles and dubbing depends on a country and it is a fact that some countries will prefer one form to the other for various reasons. Films and TV programs have become very popular with the young children. Due to the change in lifestyles watching of television has become common among the young children especially school going children. The educationists have warned that this habit is destructive to education and therefore there is need to take precaution measures. Prohibiting watching of television by children is unpractical and therefore parents have to use creative means to check the problem. Subtitling has therefore proved to be a good way of promoting education among the children. With subtitles, children can learn how to write, read and construct sentences. Subtitling can also be useful in the learning of foreign languages. In Greek, the use of subtitles is preferred over dubbing in the promotion of education among the young people. (Gambier 2001) claims that the use of subtitles is faster and child-reading speed improves cognitive ability and encourages the reading culture. On the other hand dabbling will not in any way encourage reading among this children and therefore the method is highly discouraged.

The issue of minority languages is of concern to most nations and therefore different nationals will strive to preserve all their languages including the minority languages. The use of subtitles is a good way through which the use and learning of minority language is promoted. It is also important to note that most of these minority languages are at risk of extinction and therefore the use of subtitles is a good way of preserving these languages. Subtitles ensures that there is a written record of these languages with their translation into the common language incase the language becomes less used or is completely out of use. In the republic of Ireland, subtitles have been widely used to support the Celtic language that is a minority language in this country (Pedersen 2011).

Different people across the world have different cultures and the language is the key factor, which determines the culture of the people. The language of the people therefore represents their culture. In some countries like Japan, china, and most African countries the people's culture is of great importance to the nation. Preserving the people's culture therefore becomes a priority especially in the interest of the young people who become brainwashed by foreign culture. Unlike dabbing, the use of subtitles ensures that foreign element do not contaminate the people's culture. "Subtitling in Japan is overvalued, through the idealization of the Japanese language and its own practice of translation" (Nornes 2007). On the other hand, the use of dubbing will interfere with the culture of the people through the introduction of foreign elements.

Why Dubbing?

Dubbing will also find application in various countries and in fact, this method would be preferred in these countries than in other countries. There are various reasons that will make dubbing to be the preferred form of translation in a country over subtitles. These reasons will however vary from one country to the other and they will mainly depend on the people's preferences. To begin with, the objective of creating a television program or a film is for the purpose of entertainment. The use of subtitles gives an extra task to the viewer of these programs and this contradicts the purpose of their production. Subtitles will mainly be unimpressive to the young people since they do not have time to follow them. The youth in the modern world are living the so-called "fast life" and therefore they would prefer watching a movie or a TV program, whereby it is easy to follow the events in the film or the TV production without much struggle. They would therefore prefer the use of dubbing to subtitles.

Not everyone can read especially the older people and the young children. When events on a TV program or film are fast the subtitles reflects it and become faster. Fast subtitles will cause reading problems to the aged and the children. It is also important to note that not everyone can read and therefore dubbing becomes preferred in such cases over subtitles. As noted by Lightbown (1999), in subtitled film, viewing and reading subdivides the viewer's attention. This makes even the most interesting film uninteresting to watch. For this reason, the use of subtitle will be discouraged in a country since it has a negative effect on the countries film industry.
The pronunciation is more important in the language as the language itself. It is also a fact that the best way to learn a language is through practice. For this reason, dabbling is more preferred in the teaching of language than subtitling. To the young children dubbing will be important since it provides them with a guide on pronunciations. Watching of films and TV programs is common with modern young people especially the school going children and therefore dabbling is of great significance in encouraging people to learn the pronunciation of major words in their language.

Promotion of minority languages is also of great importance in many countries, some of these minority languages are at the risk of extinction. Therefore, it is always the priority of most governments to promote the use of these languages. The use of these languages will mainly be encouraging the people to learn these languages as the best way of promoting them. These nations will also be concerned with the preservation of these languages incase the use of the language reaches to an insignificant level. Watching television and films has become a common activity among the people and therefore TV programs and films are good tools of promoting a habit. In countries with one or several languages that are at risk of collapse, dabbling will be preferred over the use of subtitles. The reasons why dabbling will be preferred over the use of subtitle is that through dabbling people will be reminded of a language that they are less concerned with. It is also through dabbling that people will realize and appreciate the values of these languages. The native Nigerian language is a good example of a language that people will only realize its values through listening to it and therefore dabbling is preferred over subtitles. Translation of foreign languages to native languages in films promotes the use of that particular language. This is contrary to the use of subtitles, which uses texts that have less effect on the viewers.

Some languages are semantically complex and this makes translating them difficult (Baker 1992, p. 22). Writing all languages is not possible and some of the languages especially the minority languages are difficult to read. It is also a fact that most people who speak these languages do not know how to read them. The use of dubbing therefore becomes essential especially in translation in such situation.


Dubbing and the use of subtitles are the two methods that are used for translation purpose on films and TV programs. Various factors determine the choice of the method used. A nation will also have an effect in the selection of the preferred method although the people will have the ultimate say in this choice. The age and the language especially the minority language are some of the factors that will influence the selection by a nation. Subtitles promote learning in young children while in most cases they add an extra task of reading to the viewers. Dabbling helps in the preservation of a language and the people's culture by encouraging the use of minority languages.


Baker, M 1992, In other words, a course book on translation, Routledge, London.

Gambier, Y 2001, (Multi) media translation: Concepts, practices, and research, John Benjamin's Publishing Co, Amsterdam.

Lightbown, P & Spada, N 1999, How languages are learned, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Nornes, M 2007, Cinemababel: Translating global cinema, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Pedersen, J 2011, subtitling norms for television: An exploration focusing on extrlinguistic cultural references, John Benjamin's Publishing Co, Amsterdam.

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