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November 14, 2017 |

Why You Should Choose Subtitling Over Dubbing

It’s been more than 70 years since people have debated over subtitling and dubbing. Both sides believe their method of translating video content is better for the public and, in some situations, they’re both right.

Subtitling and dubbing both have their pros and cons, when it comes to information processing, familiarity, costs and unity of picture and sound.

Of course, each method addresses a specific public – you can’t use subtitling when you target small children, for example. But, in general, more people prefer subtitling for watching foreign programs and films.

In fact, subtitling comes with a series of advantages for all parties involved: the public, producers and promoters. Let’s take a closer look.

Reading Subtitles Is More Efficient

Studies have shown that reading subtitles is more efficient than listening, for both children (older than 11) and adults. In this context, it makes sense to think about subtitling as the most suitable method of translating video content.

Subtitling is easy to process and allows viewers to follow the narrated events, even in the presence of environmental noises. In fact, the point that written text distracts public’s attention is more myth than exact science.

Yet, things aren’t that simple. People often have preferences for subtitling or dubbing as a result of their previous habits. In countries where there’s a long dubbing tradition (such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Russia), the public has difficulties following the text on the screen. They prefer foreign films, programs and videos to use voice overs to translate content.

On the other hand, a high number of populations prefer subtitling over dubbing. People don’t get distracted by the text on the bottom of the screen because they’ve developed an automatic reading behavior.

You should go for subtitling, if your target public lives in one of these countries:

  • The UK
  • Ireland
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Netherlands
  • Greece
  • Portugal
  • Finland
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • The US
  • China
  • India
  • Malaysia
  • South Korea
  • South Africa
  • Mexico
  • Argentina

Subtitling Keeps the Voices of the Original Actors

This is the best part of using subtitles to make your content available for a foreign public. Dubbing doesn’t allow viewers to hear the real intonations, or the tones of voice of the original actors. Subtitling, on the other side, provides a complete experience for the public.

Imagine “Through the Wormhole” or “The Story of God” without Morgan Freeman’s voice, for example. These documentaries are, without doubt, interesting and offer detailed information, but could they transmit the same emotion without the actor’s famous voice?

Moreover, the voice is important when acting, especially in dramas and comedies. Not allowing your public to hear what the original actors say decreases the film’s value. The public misses an authentic experience, being provided with a localized one instead.

Programs with big budgets invest a lot of money in the best voice overs. But despite the producers’ efforts, the public will still lose a part of the interpretation. And, in some cases, there’s even a lack of synchronization between the sound and the way the lips move on the screen, which distracts the viewers.

This is even worse when you’re on a budget and can’t afford good actors as voice overs. In this case, you’ll get a flat interpretation, with no inflection or emotion. Whether you promote art or business videos, you won’t get the reaction you’re looking for.

Subtitling Helps Improving Language Skills

Good subtitling shows the written translation of what actors say in real time. You get to hear the message and immediately read its significance. This way, you have higher chances of catching some new words in a foreign language and improving pronunciation.   

It may seem like an insignificant factor when studying languages, but having direct access to how native people talk puts you closer to improving your language skills.

English proficiency, for example, is very high in Northern Europe – where people get to see programs and films in the original language, thanks to subtitling. On the other hand, English proficiency is only moderate in Spain and Italy, two countries where video content in English is hard to access.

In countries where English videos are subtitled, people obtain higher scores in TOEFL tests. In countries where people prefer dubbed videos, scores are lower, despite the fact that the authorities invest a little more in education.

Dubbing Costs More and Needs Longer Turnaround

Another advantage when choosing subtitling over dubbing comes down to cost. In both cases, you’ll need a trained translator to come up with a good version of the original script. It’s not just about finding the right words. Whether we’re talking about subtitling or dubbing, translators have to stay within rigid limits.

Texts in the target language can’t be longer than the original ones. In most cases, translators need to adjust the phrases to fit in a fixed number of seconds or lines. It’s a hard job, as many languages need a higher number of words to say the exact same thing:

  • Damelo – in Spanish (one word)
  • Give it to me – in English (four words)

Besides the translation costs, dubbing requires professional voice overs (one for each actor in the original version of the video content), a studio, editors and post-edit specialists. Subtitling requires less effort, so the costs will also be lower.

With no time needed for recording and editing, turnarounds are faster when using subtitles. Your video content will reach its target public quicker when choosing subtitling over dubbing.  

Subtitling Keeps the Video “Natural”

All video content needs to allow a full immersion in the story to be a success. This isn’t possible when the French girl in front of the Eiffel Tower speaks English like an American from New York. Or when the samurai who tries to sell sushi in a TV commercial speaks Spanish.  

Language is important in all forms of communication. In art, in business, in everyday life. Subtitling allows viewers to listen to the way people communicate, to authentic voices. Dubbing gives them a different version of the same video. The message may be the same, but part of the non-verbal communication is lost.

It’s All About the Target Audience

When choosing the right method of translating videos, you should think mostly about your public. Even if a specific population seems to appreciate one method over the other, carry out deeper research before making your decision.

In Latin America, for example, many people seem to prefer dubbing. Yet, if you take a closer look, you’ll see how the preference for subtitling grows with the socio-economic level of the population.

So, if you’re aiming for a well-educated public, you could still use subtitles to translate your video content. If you’re looking for mass market appeal, dubbing may be your only choice.