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Posted on6 March 2013

Subtitling vs Dubbing

First and foremost, I hope everyone is familiar with what these two terms mean, it’s Subtitling vs Dubbing! If not, here are the definitions below:

Subtitling = the words printed over a film in a foreign language to translate what is being said by the actors

Dubbing = to change the original spoken language of a film or television programme into another language.

People have been debating for a long time which method is preferable. Each has their advantages and disadvantages and, ultimately it is a matter of personal preference.



  • You can listen to the voices of the original actors. Let’s face it, no one, and I mean NO ONE could EVER replace Morgan Freeman’s voice
  • It gives you the chance to brush up on your language skills – language acquisition has a passive trait as well, so listening to it might just prove helpful
  • Children who watch subtitled films (appropriate for their age, of course) develop better reading skills


  • The subtitles may distract you from the film action and some of the feeling conveyed in the dialogue may be lost when read in the written form
  • If you know the language, you may be tempted to check the translation and see how good (or bad) it is



  • Watching a film in your mother tongue can be a little less frustrating than having to read the translation of what is being said, as you can focus on the action


  • Sometimes the same artist will be used to give voice to a number of actors (not necessarily in the same film), so if you are an avid film watcher, that might become a bit annoying
  • Most of the time, dubbing means more than just rendering the words into another language, it’s a slow and difficult process. More often than not, editors try to synchronise what is being said to match the mouth movements of the character. This can lead to altering the translation or the word order in the target language for a better fit. At times this creates a strange viewing experience or, if synchronising fails, it is extremely annoying to see the actors’ lips moving and not matching the sounds coming out…. aargh!!
  • As an English speaking tourist in a country where dubbing is popular and where you do not speak the language, you will find yourself unable to unwind with a good film at the end of a long day visiting museums (or whatever other activities tourists do), as you will not understand a thing

When I was a child back in Romania, watching Cartoon Network was my generation’s favourite pastime. I remember that there were no subtitles and no dubbing either. What do you think the result was? We learnt English. At that age, children are like sponges, they absorb information easily, so it is not surprising that listening to English while watching cartoons has helped a lot.

Unfortunately, nowadays all the cartoons are dubbed, robbing the young generation of listening to genuine English.  Fortunately, they have not chosen to do the same thing with films. There was a huge debate when a politician suggested that all films be dubbed in Romanian and get rid of subtitles. People were opposed to the idea and signed petitions to prevent this from happening, and the law was not passed in the end.

So, which do you prefer? Subtitling or dubbing?

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