Each language has certain unique features that make its culture, books and, most importantly, movies, highly appealing to people from other cultures. Is it not the reason why so many of us study different languages? To be able to appreciate the mastery of Shakespeare’s writing, to fall in love with Bardotte’s charm or to philosophize in German with Nietzsche in their native language!
However, we’re also all familiar with the art of dubbing or, less well-known, voice-over translation. Both are commonly used over subtitles which many argue, impairs the experience of watching movies or TV shows.
As a Polish citizen, I would watch English movies with voice-over translation, a very popular practice in Poland. In these, the voice of a lector translating the movie is heard over the less loud, yet still audible, original soundtrack. I did not know how much I was losing until I watched the Star Wars series in English with subtitles. I could finally appreciate the unknown and exotic accents of the actors whose acting and intonations would make the dull voice of the translator sound like a speech synthesizer that prevents me from hearing the actual voices.
I believe that equally a great deal is lost in the dubbed versions of the movies. In those, you lose the chance of listening to the soft voice of, for instance, Joseph Fiennes or the neurotic tone of Woody Allen that are replaced by badly matched French or Polish speakers. The reason for why the dubbed or voice-over translated movies worsen the overall quality of the movies is simply the fact that they cause them to lose their authenticity. These translating methods, take away the genius of the performance of the actors making them sound less skilled and natural. Just imagine watching Penelope Cruz screaming in one of Pedro Almadovar’s movies with a posh British accent or James Bond speaking Russian!
Some may additionally argue that any translation of a movie or TV show from one language to another will ultimately lead to the loss of certain literary and cultural nuances inherent within the original language. We have to remember however, that a movie with subtitles already changes the original message of that movie, which is a simple disadvantage of not knowing a language. However, if we only had to watch the movies in original translation than our choice would be too limited.
In this article I wanted to solely emphasize the importance of watching a movie in its original language, but what is crucial in the appreciation of foreign cinema and TV is the overall experience. The ability to experience acting and an actor’s skillful voice intonations that are so telling of a character’s emotions and personalities, which the voices of the dubbing speakers could never hope to recreate.
On the top of that, from the pragmatic point of view, it also helps to practice new languages!
Image: Portal PBH; Flickr.com