Pet peeves: How do you feel about dubbing?

I mentioned it in one of my earlier posts on this blog and it has become somewhat of a pet peeve of mine: dubbing.

Dubbing is described as

the post-production process of recording and replacing voices on a motion picture or television soundtrack subsequent to the original shooting […]. The term most commonly refers to the substitution of the voices of the actors shown on the screen by those of different performers, who may be speaking a different language. […]
Foreign-language films, videos and sometimes video games are often dubbed into the local language of their target markets to increase their popularity with the local audience by making them more accessible” (from Wikipedia)

Most of my English speaking readers, you probably won’t understand what the big deal is, because you don’t do dubbing in this country. Which, I would like to emphasize, is very smart (for the most part). You use subtitles.

Germans are lazy and to read subtitles is strenuous, so somebody decided that it would be a good idea to dub movies. Did you know that Germany is the effin’ capital of dubbing in Europe? It’s embarrassing, really.

“Dubbing films has been and is still tradition and common practice in the German speaking area since subtitles are not accepted and used as much as in other European countries. According to a European study, Austria is the country with the highest rejection with regard to using subtitles, followed by Italy, Spain and Germany.”

In Germany, Austria and the German speaking part of Switzerland, practically all films, shows, television series and foreign soap operas are shown in dubbed versions created for the German market. (from Wikipedia)

Oh, it irritates me like nobody’s business. I mean, just imagine, when I came to the US and watched a lot of movies that I had previously seen dubbed in German and finally heard the original voices of some of the actors, I felt like “Uh, ah, cover your ears, this sounds terrible” only realizing a minute later that those were, in fact, the actors’ real voices and that I had completely different voices associated with the actors and actresses. It’s quiet disturbing to be honest, but I guess the following explains it:

“Famous foreign actors are known and recognized for their German voice and the German audience is used to them, so dubbing is also a matter of authenticity.” (from Wikipedia)

What bothers me though is that the German voices often don’t resemble the original voices of the actors/actresses. I give you a (really bad!) example.
As some of you might now, I am a big Sex and the City fan. I’ve only started watching it when I came to the US (and I have watched all seasons, some of them more than once!) and therefore only know the original voices of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte.

I know, SATC is not everyone’s cup of tea and I understand that. I still was very surprised when I talked to a friend in Germany, who told me that she really had no idea why I liked this series, that she found it to be horrible and annoying.
Later I found out the (possible) reason for her distaste and here is why: the dubbed German version is absolutely appalling. Not only is the translation of the dialogs really bad, but the dubbing companies didn’t even bother to try and find anybody whose voices would resemble those of the girls’.

Carrie’s original voice for example is  pretty unique and kind of rough. Her German counterpart is high pitch and squeaky and absolutely annoying to listen to. I cannot for the life of me understand who in the world was responsible for giving Sarah Jessica Parker this squeaky German voice. Miranda’s voice is totally off as well. No wonder people are turned off by it.

Compare the US and German movie trailers and tell me what you think, just by the sound of it.

Besides that, another thing that just simply sucks about dubbing is how much content is lost between the two languages. Yes, fine, I understand that there is no one-to-one translation for a lot of things and with dubbing, you also have to deal with limited time frames to match the lip movements with the substituted voice. But for heaven’s sake, do a better job already or don’t do it at all.
(The same applies to the reserve process as well – even though foreign films are usually not dubbed here, only subtitled, the subtitles are sometimes really really bad translations from the original. Even J has noticed that before when we were watching a German movie and the subtitles didn’t quite measure up to what was actually said/conveyed in the scene.)

But then, I also read that …

German dubbed versions sometimes diverge greatly from the original, especially adding humorous elements to the original. In extreme cases, like The Persuaders!, the dubbed version was more successful than the English original. Often it also adds sexually explicit gags the U.S. versions might not be allowed to use, like in Bewitched, translating “The Do-not-disturb sign will hang at the door tonight”  to “The only hanging thing tonight will be the Do-not-disturb sign”. (from Wikipedia)

I guess there can be an upside to everything after all :)

  1. God know why it was decided to start to dub. That's the reasons Germans have such horrible accents. At least that's what I think. None of my friends from Scandinavia have strong accents….I do think that when sooooo many shows on German TV are in English, it's nice for older people like my father to watch them in german. Personally, I can't watch them. I just watch German shows when I Am in Germany :)

  2. dackelprincessmaribeth

    February 4, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    I know. I watched TV while in Germany and found the dubbing hilarious! I can hardly wait for Uschi to come here again so she can hear the real voices on NCIS!

  3. I am a huge fan of subtitles. I remember the early 90ies when I started watching MTV UK. I don't think there were any subtitles at all, it was just English and I loved it. MTV actually improved me English skills – even later on when I started watching all those dating shows. :)

    That's why everyone from Scandinavia is so good in English because their movies are not dubbed. I just to have a pen pal from Finland many many years ago and I had always admired her for her English skills.

    By the way, I was so shocked when I heard Tom Hank's real voice for the first time. It is so different.

  4. After my time in the US and before I came to Sweden I would have agreed with every word you say 150%. In Sweden everything is subtitled and somehow, even if I understand English movies perfectly well – I do read them. And often enough you read the Pointe before it's actually said in the movie – or people in the movie theatre start laughing in beforehand. Now THAT is almost as annoying as the the sometimes horrible dubbing in Germany. I also don't like to be dependent on reading the subtitles. On Saturday I saw a Hebrew movie at the filmfestival and – short me- had a really hard time seeing the subtitles between all the other people. I missed quite a bit of the movie and it was real WORK! Both dubbing and subtitling have their sides and it's like so often all about quality. But I agree it's always best to see the original movie – IF you understand the language!

  5. I'm new to your blog but love it. And I think it's the first time I'm commenting so I apologize if this one's getting wayyyyy out of control and just ends up longer than intended.
    I totally agree. With everything. Dubbing ruins the movie, the show, the whole content…the beauty in certain sentences and scenes is completely lost and people will hate it because they simply don't get it anymore.
    I live in Switzerland right now, and I'm so glad my TV allows me to switch languages on certain Swiss channels *original version/dubbed version*. First of all, I'm a girl who likes the real deal. If the show/movie and all is originally in English I'm gonna listen to it that way. If it's in German…yeah, I'm gonna stick to that language of course. Movie theaters here tried to change and show all movies in German only which drove me nuts. So I never went. Apparently I wasn't the only one. I choose to go the movies only when it's in its original version (English!). Main reason why I'm going to the movies alone anyways. Besides, I'm the only one that doesn't have to read the subtitles to understand what is being said, and I'm sadly always the only one laughing at jokes…hmmm…this has given me some weird looks but hey, I can't help it – it's what it is. And honestly, I don't understand German jokes. Just not so familiar with them. I feel bad. Sorry. ;) But still.
    So, they should rather just stop the dubbing and have it subtitled. People will learn a new language too. ;) haha!
    And…almost forgot that…have you once paid attention to movie titles?! Original *English* ones and the German ones?! Some are better in German…some just soooooo not, and it gets sometimes confusing! :(

    Ok, enough said. Happy Friday! :D

  6. I don't know if dubbing really is lazier. It's a fact that dubbing is more expensive than subtitling, and that is why most countries (especially the small one's) don't do it. Not for the benefit of English learners but simply because they do not have the budget to dub a movie. For 90% of the movie goers in Germany (or TV watchers) it definitely makes for a more pleasant viewing experience to be able to watch a movie dubbed than subtitled. After all, why have to focus on reading the rest at the bottom of the screen if you can have the characters speak German. Sure they might miss some jokes but heck, they're never going to know, and often they don't notice how bad the translation is because they never knew the original (but then, no one can promise you that subtitles aren't going to do the same thing). As soon as you have to rely on a translation of something, it will simply never be as good as the original. I took a class where we also learned about translating movies and TV shows and it is very hard to do a good translation where cultural references can be understood by the audience (! When jokes are changed in a movie, that is usually because they are either untranslatable or refer to something Germans just won't get – even though we who are familiar with American culture might), where the length of the sentence fits and the lip movements match.
    Basically, while I would prefer subtitling because I would then be able to listen to the original voices, I also think that I am not representative of the majority of Germans and that for 90% of the population it is simply more pleasant to not have to read along while you're watching a movie. Let's be honest, the reason we would prefer subtitles is not that we love reading along, but that we know we wouldn't have to. Most people would, though. And subtitles do not guarantee an any better translation – they usually have to leave out stuff because you cannot read as fast as you can listen. And they will still have the problem of how to translate things that are not directly translatable. A translation in subtitles can be just as bad as a dubbed one. And the majority of people are never going to be able to tell just how bad it is. Clearly there are huge differences in the quality of dubbing (i.e. comparing a Disney movie to an MTV show), but the same quality gap could be found in subtitled movies as well.
    And the only reason I personally would like movies to be subtitled instead of dubbed is because I know I would not have to actually read them because I would understand the movie without any translation as well.
    Of course movies and TV shows are widely helpful to improve your English skills (and I am pretty sure they were partly responsible for how fluent my English got), but again, let's be realistic. Most people do not care. And those who do have the choice of buying DVDs and switching to the English language track.

  7. This was such an interesting post for me to read, since I've grown up in America and have had very little experience with dubbing! There were parts of this that made me giggle out loud! Made me smile. Thanks, San!

  8. Karen, you're hitting the nail right on the head ;-) The subtitles here in Sweden are often not really fitting because it is so difficult to translate some things. Yes, I do love that I can see all movies and shows in their original language in Sweden, but only as long as the original is in English or German. For me it's a nicer experience to see a dubbed chinese movie than having to read every single line. And I can imagine that's how many people that do not speak English must feel about American movies as well.

  9. Subtitles all the way! Some of my favourite movies are subtitled (Amelie, Pan's Labyrinth) and I can't bear to think what it would've been like if they'd been dubbed. I remember being in Europe somewhere years ago and seeing dubbed Star Trek, though, which was pretty amazing lol

  10. so funny you are blogging about this. It's so true though. I'm a “King of Queens” watcher and I thought the American voices were crazy until I realized that I wasn't used to them. weird….

  11. I couldn´t agree more, Karen!!! Nothing to add. Thank you :)

  12. after reading your article plus reading all of the comments i ask myself why it's all blamed on germany or german speaking countries. the french or the italians for example have no subtitles or give an eff to read subtitles. i do agree that because of the many english channels in scandinavian countries or the netherlands, people in those countries speak a much better english. but i think french, italians, spanish people all have a huge accent speaking english and are “too lazy” to read subtitles. i do prefer to watch a british or a us movie in english and hear the original voices and i have to agree that the original versions is usually a lot better. specially funny shows or movies. but i am sure it's pretty hard to translate a joke or something that, that would make no sense in another language. but like i said, i don't think that is a german speaking countries thing. a lot of countries do it and maybe not everyone is as interested in watching a movie in english. and i guess we also have to see how less european movies make it to the us for example.

  13. i do absolutely agree with you karen. we like to watch a movie or show in the original language to hear the original voices, because we would understand it without reading. and i do have to agree that especially mtv shows for example are horribly subtitled in germany. and i can only speak for 90% of my german friends, and they are simply not interested in watching a movie in english. and so they don't know how much better a movie for example is, when you hear the original voice. a couple of weeks ago it almost cracked me up, that a german tv channel, and we are talking about one of the most conservative ones, decided to show the show 30 rock, and i always wanted to see the dubbed version of 30 rock and i am sure it sounds more than stupid. but like you said, it must be a pretty tough job to translate right and match with the lip moving.

  14. I totally agree with you!! When I was younger (maybe…14/15) I would be annoyed by subtitles. “Let's just watch the dubbed version,” I'd say. (Laziness! Ha.) It wasn't until my early adult years that I realized how annoying dubbing is, and how much I adore subtitles on foreign films. I feel like it's more organic that way. The original language (even if I can't understand it) in which the movie was filmed totally affects the way I understand the movie. I like to hear the original intonation, the way they breathe and sigh, the way the Spanish/French/Japanese flows off the characters tongues. I don't mind reading, because I feel like dubbing movies into English completely changes the movie. It makes it seem fake, unauthentic. Plus, after about 5 minutes of subtitles I forget that I'm reading and I feel like I am hearing it in English. (Weird trick of the brain!) Anyway, great post!

  15. That is so true! It is so weird when you are back in Germany and watch Television. You just know the original voices and it just sounds so weird. But I have to say: Sesamestreet in German is sooo much better :-)

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