Services | 10.07.2009

Translations for film: Subtitling vs. Dubbing

Subtitles and dubbing are used to translate films and video files, either through the use of onscreen text or foreign language voiceovers. Since the 1920s, when films with sound began to be distributed around Europe and the rest of the world, there has been widespread debate in the film industry over which is the better option. Subtitles are now preferred by the majority of foreign audiences, particularly those where viewers may be familiar with English and therefore prefer to hear the original dialogue. This is particularly true for films and television programmes that are popular among younger people. Children’s programmes are, however, almost always dubbed.

Of course, it’s not just Hollywood blockbusters that need subtitles or dubbing. Many organisations are now using short films to promote themselves on their websites or on video sharing sites such as YouTube. Depending on the content of these films, the viewing figures they are likely to achieve, and of course budget, companies may choose to either subtitle or dub them. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference.

Dubbing is generally the more expensive option and is most suitable for films with a narrator, rather than dramatisations or scenes with people talking to camera. Careful scripting is required to ensure that the voiceover matches the on-screen action, as well as the use of professional voice actors to ensure that the foreign language performance matches the original as closely as possible. Using an appropriate voiceover means that the viewer is less distracted from the film’s message.

Subtitles are typically a more cost-effective and quicker option and are in fact the most read type of text in some European countries. In the UK, some 6 million people regularly use DVD or TV subtitles, which means that there are strict guidelines on the number of characters that can appear per line and how long they must stay on screen. As a result, subtitles are often a condensed version of the spoken text, but when written with clarity and readability in mind, can aid the viewer’s understanding whilst retaining the flavour of the original film.

The Translation People have considerable experience in supplying both subtitles and voiceovers and our team can advise you on which is the most suitable option for your project. Our portfolio of professional voice over artists and translators trained in adapting text for subtitles will ensure that your video’s message always reaches your target audience.


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