All Dubbed Out

Dubbing. A concept which is completely beyond my realm of comprehension. So much so, that before living in France I didn’t really know much about it.  I had heard that some European countries did this odd thing where, instead of just putting subtitles on the screen, people were employed to speak, in their own language, in place of the original actors. I found this truly mesmerising having grown up in a country where dubbing doesn’t exist. In Australia, if you want to see a film that happens to be Spanish, well it stays in Spanish and you have a constant stream of nifty subtitles to ensure you understand what’s going on.

So when I arrived in France you could imagine my surprise to find out that George Clooney spoke fluent French! (Whereas I though he was only capable of asking ‘What else?’) But everyone else did as well. Every single actor seemed to speak fluent French. Except there was just one glitch, I didn’t recognise their voices. Two glitches actually, their mouths weren’t moving at the same time as the French voice which just seemed all a little unconvincing.

Let’s have a look at just a few of the advantages of leaving film and TV in its original language.

a) Studies have shown that foreign language acquisition is made easier as a result of watching films and TV in their original language, especially when it comes to kids.

b) Studies have also proved that one’s reading and writing skills increase dramatically as a result of subtitles. This makes perfect sense. If even half the time that kids spend in front of the TV is used reading in their own language, well then of course they are going to master it earlier.

c) Accents! Films where several languages and accents are used are completely lost in dubbed films were everyone miraculously speaks the same language.

Now let’s have a look at some of the excuses I often hear when I tackle the subject of subtitles with friends and acquaintances. 

a) It’s too hard (reading & watching).

It’s really not. Speak to most Australians or English people who’ve had no choice but to read subtitles whilst watching foreign films and they’ll tell you that they don’t even realise they’re doing both at the same time. It’s just a matter of habit.

b) If all English speaking films and TV were left in English then our children wouldn’t be able to speak French properly.

False. See b) above.

c) If dubbing didn’t exist, the French language would die out.

Admittedly, us Anglophones are more advantaged by the amount of English speaking material available which notably comes from America. But whilst Hollywood is a difficult industry to rival, perhaps if English films were left in English then more French TV series would pop-up and more funding would be pumped into the French Film Industry.

d) But the guy that dubs Colin Firth has a really great voice.

He may well do. But it’s not Colin’s! Voices are unique and undisputedly shape the way others perceive us. Could you imagine yourself being dubbed into another language? Would you feel as though the audience was getting a true glimpse of who you were?

Our voice and intonation, which ultimately determine the way in which we express ourselves, are intrinsically linked to our own culture. I just couldn’t imagine seeing La Vita Belladubbed into English. This would be a gross injustice to Roberto Benigni and the film itself. As would watching Marion Cotillard play Edith Piaf be, in La Vie en Rose. The list, my friends, goes on…

Anyway, that’s enough of a rant for one day. Times are definitely changing in France with more and more people, especially parents, seeing the benefits of watching films in their original version, regardless of the language.

Reunion Island is definitely in a transitional stage with cinemas gradually starting to put on more “VO” films. Our English Evenings at Ciné Cambaie have proved a huge success and it’s great to see the Reunion population embracing the change!


beyond my realm of comprehension – ça me dépasse complètement
odd – bizarre
subtitles – sous-titres
employed – embauché
stream – flot

nifty – ingénieux
fluent – couramment
whereas – tandis que
glitch – bug, problème
it comes to – il s’agit de

to tackle – aborder
acquaintances – connaissances
pop-up – apparaître
funding – financement
rant – coup de gueule 

regardless – peu import

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