Dubbing and subtitling are the ways to experience foreign-language content. And when I say the I mean only ways, unless you’re bi or multilingual. So, naturally, there’s a huge, never-ending debate about the merits of one technique over the other. Today, we’ll try to figure out whether you should always pick one, or whether they can coexist.
This kinda sounds like the plot of one of the Avengers movies, doesn’t it? But, of course, we know that things aren’t always so simple in the world of translation, voice-overs, dubbing, and language replacement. There are many ways to experience media, and many ways to experience language. Isn’t this a perfect “can’t we all just get along?” moment?
Well, yes and no.
The truth is, some people will prefer one method over the other. But, it’s also true that you’ll probably need to know how both work if you’re in marketing or creating a new media hit. That means their strengths, weaknesses, and why some swear by either subbing or dubbing.
And, what’s even more important, you’ll probably need to implement both in your projects — most likely simultaneously. So, in this article, we’ll go over what makes dubbing and subtitling tick, and why you should always have them on your radar. If you want the maximum engagement, positive response, and conversions, that is.
Ready? Grab yourself a nice cup o’ joe, and let’s take a deeper look.
Dubbing and Subtitling — Subbing Basics
We’ve gone over subtitling quite a few times in our blog, and that’s no surprise. It’s the most direct way to experience a foreign production that doesn’t involve speaking the language yourself.
Let’s go over the basic definition from “Sub vs Dub: The Age-Old Debate Goes On”:
Subtitles are essentially a display of text (derived from a screenplay or on-screen dialogue) in audiovisual content, in sync with the sounds and images.
You can frequently see them in films, TV shows, video games, etc. While subtitles can appear in the original language (as a form of aid for the deaf or hard-of-hearing) in addition to captions, they’re often a form of A/V translation. Meaning, they appear translated so foreign audiences can understand the on-screen content in their own language.
Subtitles in the same language often reflect the original dialogue word-for-word. Meanwhile, subtitles as a form of translation have certain space and time limitations.
For instance, they have a space limit of around 70 characters. This means that even with the best of intentions, a translator rarely has enough space for a truly faithful translation. Also, it means that readability comes before every other concern; you can’t have good subtitles if they’re too fast or no one can read them, right?
And, with the average reading speed being 3 words per second, it complicates things more. With that reading speed, 70 characters, and around two lines of text, the maximum hovers around 12 words.
Also, subtitles have to be synchronized with scene changes in order to avoid disorienting the viewer. When it comes to dubbing and subtitling, though, subs are absolutely the best way to preserve the original identity of a piece of media.
Subtitles Have Plenty Going for Them
Dubbing and subtitling both have their strengths and weaknesses. In the case of subs, the main pros are:
- They preserve the original character of the vocal performances. If you’re a fan of the original voices, then this is the way to go. Actors and actresses do plenty of work in order to get to the final product, be it in movies, TV, etc; subtitles are a way to honor that performance and maintain the most integrity with the original.
- Dubbing and subtitling vary in how they expose people to different cultures. Subtitling is definitely the choice that gets audiences closer to different cultures, languages, and ways of experiencing the world.
- They’re a very cost-effective way to have a good localization effort. Meaning, that even if the translation’s not 100% faithful, it’ll convey the spirit of the original performance while making sense for the target culture. Also, of course, dubbing and subtitling hit very differently on the economic front; subbing is absolutely the fastest, cheapest way to get translated content.
- Subtitles also help massively on the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) front. How? Search engines like Google don’t really index audio content, because they can’t (yet) automatically convert video into readable text. So, how do people circumvent this? By having subtitled content EVEN in the original language. Then, the only thing search engines have to do is “read” the subtitles, which can have useful keywords that drive up traffic. Neat, huh?
- Subtitles can help keep people engaged over 80% of the time vs audio alone.
There’s more, but we’ll leave it at that for now.
And there’s always a but. Subtitles are the preferred choice of fast readers and purists like myself. Still, if you’re not that fast a reader (and there’s no obligation to be one), you might find the experience less than pleasant. It’s very frequent for people to miss out on parts of the movie because they’re reading the subtitles. While translators try to get around these things, it’s never perfect.
Sadly, there’s no way to really get around this type of limitation. With dubbing and subtitling, it’s absolutely the case that subtitles will have you looking down to read whilst dubbing won’t. That’s the way the cookie crumbles, but it’s a small price to pay, in my opinion.
Dubbing and Subtitling — All About Dubbing
So, dubbing is a form of language replacement. Meaning that the idea is to deliver a final product that conveys the illusion that the characters are speaking in the target language. How do we create this? Through the magic of voice-overs, of course!
In dubbing, a pro — or team of pros if you need a full cast — meticulously act out a translated version of the original script in front of a microphone. The goal is to be able to convey the same emotional nuance and level of acting as the original cast. If done well, dubbing can absolutely complement, or even augment the original experience.
But, getting to this level is not just about quality acting. Actors also have to match their speech to the lip and mouth movement of the originals. If you think about it, that’s a pretty tall order; you not only have to be an incredible actor, but also a part-time ventriloquist to be good at dubbing.
Of course, this is not necessary for narrations or scenes where you don’t see the actors’ lips move. But, the general consensus is that there’s plenty of matching in an average production that involves dubbing.
What’s Good About Dubbing?
In dubbing and subtitling, dubbing is definitely the people’s choice. Does that mean it’s better? Worse? It just means it’s more accessible. Let’s see how:
- Dubbing creates an illusion that improves all-around immersion. If it’s done well, you’ll hardly notice characters not speaking your native language. Thus, dubbing gets us closer to the action, makes it feel more familiar.
- While dubbing is much-maligned by subbing purists, it’s often very good. What’s more, in some cases the dubbed-over performances can even exceed or be more fitting than the original track. This has happened a few times in anime and video games, for example.
- You don’t lose track of the action. With subbing, even eagle-eyed viewers can sometimes miss out on a minute detail. If you’re watching a movie that hinges on subtle clues, that could be potentially very bad. You don’t want people to lose the plot, and that’s why dubbing is the more immersive option.
Nothing’s Perfect, Though
In our article about the dubbing and subtitling debate, I wrote:
Yes, they’re not perfect either. In many cases, the dubs don’t come close to the originals in terms of passion, intensity, and believability. They also have the — usually unwanted — consequence of “whitewashing,” or creating perfectly homogenized, samey environments that effectively erase the culture and nuance of the original versions. Many arguments in the sub vs dub debate have spoken, for instance, of the TV show Dark.
The Netflix darling is definitely not the same when you experience it with the original cast. Hearing it in English almost brings the certain stately, somber originals into the sonic realm of small-town drama shows you’ve likely seen a million times before. And that can take away from some of the exotic, expansive nature of the experience.
And, there’s also the matter of cost. While dubs provide a more comprehensive translation effort, they’re also several times more expensive than subtitles. Hiring a full cast, crew, and voice-over director can cost you a pretty hefty sum. Also, it takes much longer to produce a satisfactory dub than a workable subtitle, which can be ready in hours to days, depending.
But, no doubt, people will continue to prefer just watching and listening rather than reading.
The Dubbing and Subtitling Conclusion
So, dubbing and subtitling, which one’s better in the end? While I won’t recommend that we all get along, sing kumbayah, and call it a day, the reality is that they both have their uses. And, if you’re looking to maximize your audience, you’ll need both.
That’s right, you’ll need both subbing and dubbing. And what’s more, you’ll need to sub your content in the original language as well for the aforementioned SEO reasons. And, you’ll need to offer your audience the chance of experiencing your content in new languages with both subbing and dubbing. This also has the added benefit of reaching more people in total.
So, what’s an enterprising upstart to do? Why, hire pros from Bunny Studio, of course!
If you need help with dubbing, we have a growing roster of over 100,000 talented voice pros for all of your needs.