We Translate On Time

Does dubbing impact language-learning?

July 29th, 2019

Dubbing and subtitling fortunately allow us to watch films and programmes that we otherwise would be unable to understand. However, the age-old question of 'to dub' or 'to sub' can cause quite the stir, with only a small majority of Europeans (52%) preferring to watch dubbed media. The popularity of dubbing or subtitling appears to be more of a national choice than a personal one, with where you grow up seeming to influence your preference. The only area in which most countries seem to agree is with cartoons, where dubbing works best for obvious reasons. 

The main proponents of subtitling in Europe include Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. On the other hand, dubbing fiends include France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Both clearly have their pros and cons. As an anti-dubber, I personally think that after watching the first few minutes of a film with subtitles you barely notice that you're even reading anything, but I know that many people claim that it just isn't enjoyable. With dubbing, you don't have to read what the actors are saying, and you can listen to them speaking in your own language. Another pro-dubbing argument is that little information is lost in translation when compared to subtitling. This is because subtitlers are limited in the amount of characters that they can fit: for example, Dutch subtitlers have to omit around 30% of English spoken text. That said, dubbing can produce films and programmes with poor lip-synching and is far more expensive than subtitling. Some people also argue that dubbing can ruin the art of the film / programme, as it isn't in the originally intended language .

Conclusions have also been drawn from the links between dubbing and language-learning. It is largely thought that countries with a preference for subtitling tend to have greater language-learning capabilities, particularly regarding English. This is largely because when you watch a film in its original language, you're exposed to that language and will naturally pick up words and phrases, even if you don't speak it. Indeed, research has found that both children and adults learn new vocabulary when watching subtitled films, and the 2018 EF English Proficiency Index supports this theory. The Index ranked Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway in the top 4 countries for English proficiency world-wide, whereas countries such as Spain, Italy and France were ranked with 'moderate proficiency' in 32nd, 34th and 35th place respectively. Although there are some exceptions to the rule, such as Germany and Poland, who have high levels of proficiency but are pro-dubbing, a general trend can be seen between the use of subtitling and a higher proficiency in English. 

And so the battle of 'subs' v 'dubs' continues...



by Nicola Spruyt