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Subtitling or Dubbing

Subtitling vs Dubbing

Subtitling or Dubbing: The Great Debate

Moviegoers have debated for years over whether they prefer subtitling or dubbing. And both camps argue over why their preference is better than the other. Consider the almost unlimited access to foreign movies and TV shows. Most viewers will sooner rather than later make up their minds about how they’d want to watch their shows.

Each method of making movies accessible to a foreign audience, of course, has its pros and cons. For instance, except in big blockbuster flicks with huge budgets, producers will find it hard to dub their content.

So what exactly are dubbing and subtitling?

What is subtitling?

Subtitling is the process of converting dialogue in an audiovisual format into text, normally into another language. The text then is added to the bottom the screen.

This way, viewers can follow the dialogue by reading the text below. Subtitling can be done manually or with machine-aided translation.


What is dubbing?

Dubbing is the process of using a voice actor to voice-over the dialogues in a movie from the source language to the target language.

Depending on the budget and country, one voice actor can handle the voice-over for all characters in a movie. Case in point Poland. On the other hand, Germany requires voice actors to specialize in voicing one character.

That said, there are a couple of reasons people prefer one form to the other. Take, for example, people in France, Germany, and Russia prefer to have foreign movies dubbed while viewers in the UK, the USA, Mexico say they prefer subtitled movies.


Subtitling vs Dubbing – Pros and Cons

For those who favour dubbed content:

  • viewers want to relax with the movie and not turn it into another reading chore.
  • you run the risk of not finishing reading before the next line appears, thereby distracting them from enjoying the movie.
  • easier to understand, and therefore better for younger audiences (cartoons, etc.). In fact, most kid’s productions are automatically dubbed as it makes it a lot easier for them to follow.

In favour of subtitling:

  • it is more cost-effective to add subtitles than to dub.
  • voice-over actors might not capture the inflexion, mood, and tonality of the original actor.
  • you keep the original soundtrack and can therefore enjoy the cultural background of the film.
  • dubbed movies often lose their authenticity.
  • audio quality is lost with dubbing, and at best just ordinary.
  • it helps with language learning.

Therefore, it’s not just a matter of preference. There is a huge cost element.

Also, machine translation is an ever cheaper alternative than human translation. The clear danger of using machine translation to add subtitles is that the you might lose the nuances of the dialogue.



To conclude, the debate will continue. Producers and distributors will prefer subtitles for financial reasons. Language learners and purists will also prefer subtitling in order to hear the original. Children and lazy adults prefer dubbing so as not to have to read while watching.

So, there you have it. How do you prefer to watch your movies, dubbed or subtitled?

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