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Subtitling Vs Dubbing

Did you know? When a film is released in a country which speaks a different language, there are usually two options available for the foreign language version. These are either subtitling or dubbing.

‘Subtitling can be defined as the process of providing synchronised captions for film and television dialogue. More recently for live opera. While dubbing refers to any technique of covering the original voice in an audio-visual production by another voice’*.

Europe can be divided into ‘dubbing countries’ and ‘subtitling countries’. Italy, together with France and Spain, is among those countries where dubbing is widely employed. This means that Julia Roberts, Will Smith and other well-known actors all speak perfect Italian.

In other countries, such as the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden, dubbing is only used in children’s programmes. Since children either cannot read or do not have advanced language skills yet. The rest of the TV programmes and films are broadcast in English with subtitles.

I will not talk here about the advantages and disadvantages of these two practices in general! But rather about the challenges posed for translation services when a linguist is confronted with a text either to be subtitled or dubbed.

In dubbing, there are some obvious constraints. The translation has to synchronise with the length of the speech act of the actor/actress, and lip movement has to be taken into account. However, subtitling is also a challenging activity. There is a limited amount of space on the screen, therefore subtitles should not exceed 2 lines, as well as 35 characters per line**. I actually translated a short documentary myself and did not realise how hard it would be until I was there, trying desperately to squeeze most of the speech into 2 tiny lines!

Would you like to give subtitling a go?

Then let me know if you think it’s actually that hard? What about trying the subtitling facility offered by YouTube. This is another way to have a taste of subtitling. If you know of any other free subtitling software, why not post their web address here and let us know what you think of them?

And last, but not least, a bit of fun… In German, subtitles for the opera and the theatre are called Übertitel (Supertitles) because they are always displayed in the upper part of the scene.


For more information about Lingua Translations’ language services, please visit the translation services page of our website.

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