Language Matters December 2006: Subtitling and Dubbing

Dear Language Friend,

Christmas is just around the corner and there are only a few windows and a few chocolates left on your Advent calendar. Never mind whether all your chocolate is long gone or still waiting for you, I still would like to take this opportunity to wish you a wonderful Christmas season and a great start in 2007!Thank you for your support and for keeping up with our Newsletters.

The December issue on the WHAT, WHERE and WHEN of languages will spoil you with international film tips. WHAT are subtitles and dubbings? WHERE can you pick up international movie masterpieces? And WHEN is the right time to watch films?

Mind you, it is NOW – make the most of these festive times to gather up with your family or friends. Get comfy on the sofa with a multicultural DVD or embark in the darkness of a cinema. Don’t hesitate to order some tasteful Thai, Mexican, Indian or Japanese food on the way. Otherwise, gingerbread men are always a good movie snack option, all the more in December… Christmas is back; treat your body and mind and run to the cinema!

Happy Holidays from LingoStar!

International Movies for Christmas

Are you movie-mad? The good news is that if you are in Vancouver, you can enjoy the perks of a major film-making hub! So while the rain goes on pouring, why not sit inside, and enjoy the movies?

The Vancouver International Film Centre and Vancity Theatre await you, among dozens of other movie establishments in town, for a trip out of reality. Immerse yourself in an ocean of cultural and linguistic differences, munching on popcorn, mesmerized by the action on the big screen.

VIFC’s mandate, as stated on the cinema’s website, is “To encourage understanding of other nations through the art of cinema, to foster the art of cinema, to facilitate the meeting in British Columbia of cinema professionals from around the world, and stimulate the motion picture industry in British Columbia and Canada.” Aren’t you convinced yet?

Type and research the movie selection, ranging from exotic documentaries to movies in French, Spanish or Hungarian.

I particularly recommend the Blockbuster video rental store at 1575 Robson street (on Robson and Cardero), crammed with independent and international films. Discover their amazing “New releases” and “Foreign movies section”, in which you will find DVDs once presented at the Vancouver Film Festival. As you scan the shelves, you will come across “The Secret Life of Words” (Spain), “U Carmen Ekhayelitsah” (South African movie, setting the famous Carmen opera in …South Africa!), and many more multi-cultural and exotic films.

The “Staff Picks” section is particularly interesting, as the staff members advising on their favorite movie for the week, are of different nationalities.

Subtitling versus Dubbing

How can an English speaker gain access and get to enjoy an Italian, Polish or Spanish movie? Well, it is all about subtitling and dubbing.

Check out our blog post on how to handle multilingual subtitles in YouTube >>

So what are these techniques all about?

They aim at localizing video achievements for a foreign audience, either in the form of a written sentence (subtitles) or as a covering soundtrack (dubbing), so that access to the source movie is facilitated and internationally widened.

Dubbing professionals translate and adapt the source texts and dialogues of authentic film script and thus work out a new voice track in the target audience’s language. For each different character, a voice artist will cover the former source text voice with the new target text and voice.

This achievement is not difficulty-free – it can turn into quite a challenge as it is sometimes very hard to have the translated voices match the original ones. This sometimes results in amusing lips discrepancies that can prove annoying in the long run.

That is why some viewers prefer to watch a subtitled foreign movie rather than having to put up with distorted dubbed voices. Indeed, in multilingual subtitling, the voices and source languages are intact while a text in the target language runs at the bottom of the screen. Then again, the translated and written text cannot exactly match the original but viewers get a more authentic experience as the voices and intonations remain unchanged.

Subtitling versus Dubbing Around the World

The choice as how to localize foreign movies greatly varies from country to country. And mind you, some movies will be dubbed two or three times in the same language, so that the spectrum of accents is respected. This obviously only happens with the large languages such as English, Spanish, Chinese, etc.

The movie translating policy also depends on a particular country. For example, there is a dramatic gap between English proficiency of the Germans and the Dutch, with the Dutch scoring at English above the Germans. The Germans typically apply dubbing for both movies and TV shows, whereas, the Dutch more often opt for presentation in the original language using subtitles.

The preference for dubbing or subtitling in various countries is largely based on decisions taken in the late 1920s and early 1930s. With the arrival of sound film, the film importers in Germany, Italy, France and Spain decided to dub foreign voices, while the rest of Europe selected to display the dialogue as translated subtitles. Those decisions were partly due to financial reasons, with dubbing being a lot more expensive and time-consuming than mere subtitling.

Subtitling and Dubbing Services by LingoStar

At LingoStar, we help clients with subtitling or dubbing a documentary, a company presentation or a film. We work with talented linguists and voiceover artists who will make the film-making experience enjoyable in a number of world languages. Contact us to inquire about subtitling and dubbing services.

Foreign Movies Tips

And finally, a few examples to get submerged in multicultural movies!

Surely, Potluck, (“L’auberge espagnole“, in its original name), is a good start to get the feel of an international atmosphere. Xavier, a French twenty-something student completes a full year abroad at the University of Barcelona. His stay soon turns into a saga of adventures in a multicultural flat that he shares with seven other foreigners: Wendy the English, Alessandro the Italian, Helmut the German… and the consequent identity and cultural clashes. The use of subtitles is very intelligent and appropriate, as each character occasionally speaks his own language once Spanish, the language of the household, fails to fulfill its communicative function.

Another cinema release by film-maker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel, proves enticing as far as language cocktail is concerned. The scenes continuously jump from Japan to Tunisia, Tunisia to the US, the US to Mexico, Mexico to Morocco, and Morocco to Japan… ideal to lose track of your own language!

In Da Vinci Code, you will be impressed by the French actress Audrey Tautou’s flawless English, and  in Marie-Antoinette you will discover that the French 18th century Queen was actually fluent in English. Or was that the magic of dubbing?

December Greetings

Either way, to both dubbing addicts and subtitles supporters: do not hesitate to get a taste of a foreign movie over the holiday season bearing in mind that the language mix in the films will ultimately catch up with you on the streets of Vancouver or any other multicultural city. But don’t forget that in real life the subtitles or dubbing cannot be turned on! Enjoy the holidays and have some language fun!