mardi 29 septembre 2009

Movie and tv show dubbing a hindrance to language learning?

A few days ago I had dinner with my family and some friends... it turned out to be a trilingual conversation with English, Chinese (Mandarin) and German (no French unfortunately).

There was an interesting conversation (in English). One of the Germans (who is a friend's sister's cousin's uncle's friend's son's dog's owner's neighbour - or something to that effect) mentioned that the northern European countries are much better at English and learning other languages because none of their English tv shows are dubbed, whereas in Germany (and most other Western European countries) English programs and movie are almost always dubbed.

There is a discussion on Antimoon about this topic.

In Australia, hardly anything is dubbed. After consulting Wikipedia it does mention animated programs for children, and some advertisements, which is true. I do remember in my childhood, (Japanese) cartoons such as Astroboy being dubbed into English. Also I remember a tv commercial for shampoo or something that seemed to have been filmed in the Phillippines (I think) that was dubbed into (Australian-accented) English.

But films, tv shows and documentaries are never dubbed. In saying that though, on free-to-air tv non-English programmes are very rarely aired. They are mostly shown on the SBS channel (which features news, programmes and movies from around the world). They've shown some really brilliant foreign films on that channel.

It might sound strange, but I actually like to read sub-titles. Since I'm OK with Mandarin (but definitely not fluent) I like to read the English sub-title and see how close it is to how I would've translated it. I found in a lot of cases it is quite different but I've learnt that translating films is an art. They just have to get the meaning across, not translate it word for word. Also, they have to fit the words into the allocated space on each screen so they can't be too wordy.

I've found that when I have French subtitles (either on a French or English-speaking film) it helps immensely, but I've found that when I watch a French film with English subtitles it doesn't help me much (in terms of learning French). Sure it helps me watch the film, and understand what they are saying but it's far more useful for me when I see French subtitles.

One of my favourite films of all time is Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella) (1997). I remember putting the DVD into my DVD player and was horrified to hear them speaking English. Somehow the default was set that dubbed English was the audio track. Yes, they were speaking English with a faux Italian accent. It was horrible! I quickly switched it off and preferrred to listen to the original Italian audio track (even though I didn't know what they are saying) and read the subtitles.

Getting back to the topic though, if you look at the map on Wikipedia, Blue = dubbing only for children's programmes. Red = General dubbing: Countries using exclusively a full-cast dubbing, both for films and for TV series.

It seems that in parts of Eastern Europe they don't dub either. I don't know if it's a stereotype or if it's true but most Eastern Europeans I've come across are very good at languages and at being bi/tri/multi-lingual too.

C'est intéressant, non?

Link: Watch foreign films without dubbing


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