To dub, or not to dub, that is the question

film-158157_960_720In this post, I’d like to share a lesson which panned out really well. The umbrella topic was movies. I wanted to do more than just ask my students to discuss their favorite films and actors, which, by the way, we had done a million times before anyway. Instead, I decided to introduce the concept of movie dubbing, which, I believe, is a big issue related to foreign language learning.

In the Czech Republic, foreign films, TV series, cartoons, and animated series are dubbed into Czech. So, with only a few exceptions, television channels broadcast foreign films and series dubbed. Films in cinemas are usually provided with subtitles, but many films like family films and films aimed at a young audience are also dubbed. Czech dubbing has always been of high quality and it is also common for well-known foreign actors to be dubbed by one individual Czech voice actor.

On the other hand, in many western European countries, such as the Netherlands or the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, movies and TV series are shown in their original language with subtitles, with the exception of movies made for a young audience (Wikipedia).

To be completely fair, I should stress, however, that young people in my country don’t watch TV a lot these days; they watch films and TV shows on the internet. Thus they often have only one option – the original soundtrack with or without subtitles (Czech or English ones).

When I was preparing for the lesson, I came across this interesting blog post called Subtitles: yes or no? written in 2008 by a Polish girl called Anna. She argues that in Poland, they have (or had, at that time) one person (normally a guy) reading the lines of all actors in Polish while the original soundtrack is still somewhat audible in the background. When TVP2, one of the Polish TV channels, decided to start showing original English language programming with Polish subtitles, the reaction of the public was surprising: only 19% of Poles wanted to have subtitles, the people actually prefer the reader.

So, armed with some background knowledge about the situation in film dubbing, I asked the first question in class: to dub or not to dub? I encouraged my 16-year students to come up with some advantages and disadvantages of dubbing. After a five-minute discussion in pairs, I elicited some of their insights and we put them on the board for later reference.

Then I showed them a short YouTube video of a scene from the Star Wars movie called “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE”. This scene is shown in its original version first and then dubbed into multiple languages. We agreed that some languages sound more suitable than others for a passionate scene like this. 🙂

At this point, I mentioned the fact that coincidentally, the countries which don’t dub their movies are the countries that speak the best English. We discussed this a bit. We agreed, however, that we should be skeptical about conclusions like this – Dutch and Swedish, like English, are Germanic languages, after all, so maybe they need dubbing less than we Czechs do.

Anyway, we moved on to the issue of subtitles. I gave my students a copy of the article I mentioned above (Subtitles: yes or no?). After reading, I asked some comprehension questions I had prepared beforehand to make sure they got the main points and we briefly discussed what they thought.

We wound up the lesson with a short video called How to watch English movies without subtitles. The author offers four simple steps in which you can improve your listening skills. My students thought that some of the advice was not too feasible and came up with their own tips. I was particularly pleased with their conclusion that English lessons matter the most. One of the boys literally said: Pay attention in English lessons, learn vocabulary and take part in speaking activities as much as you can. This surprised me because students usually seem to believe that you can really learn English outside of the classroom – not in the classroom. Or maybe it’s my own belief?

My final, question was: subs or dubs? We summarized the topic briefly and said goodbye.





About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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6 Responses to To dub, or not to dub, that is the question

  1. Portugal also doesn’t generally dub and their English is pretty good, so maybe not just about Germanic languages.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Rachael. I checked out one of the recent graphs (the 2017 EF English Proficiency Index) which shows that Portugal is only two paces above the Czech Republic in terms of English language proficiency. Both countries fall into the high proficiency category. This is good but I believe that once (if) we stop dubbing movies here in the Czech Republic, chances are we’ll move up the ladder. Whether it is good or bad to get rid of dubbing completely is another question.


  2. Zhenya says:

    Hi Hana
    Thank you for the great post: enjoyed the lesson idea you described, and the topic was/is very close to my heart.
    Here in Ukraine about 90% (my feeling) of content on TV and in the movies is dubbed into Ukrainian. Similar to your context, Ukrainian dubbing is of high quality and local famous actors are involved. This certainly helps developing receptive skills proficiency in the Ukrainian language (of those people here whose L1 is different) and build positive image of the language, etc. If course it does not help acquiring English, and this is something I would like to see change.
    It is different from place to place, but usually it is possible to see a new movie in the language of its original in most large cities now. For example, at least one movie theater in Dnipro would offer a movie in English a week, and there are several places in Kiev that have this option. In Lviv (where I am now) each movie is shown in English at least once (based on my observations, not official stats)
    Hope these are good steps to make towards higher confidence and proficiency!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks for your take on this, Zhenya. I think it would be great to always have two versions – the original subtitled version and a dubbed one. People could make a choice based on their L2 proficiency, age, the type of movie, etc. For example, my nine-year-old son still prefers dubbed movies but I know that he’ll soon be able to watch (and will prefer) the subtitled ones. That’s how it was with my older sons. On the other hand, I wouldn’t like to force my parents to watch movies in English (or any other language) just because it’s good L2-wise. Also, it depends on what your motivation is – do you just want to enjoy the movie (and thus subtitles are distracting) or is your secondary goal to acquire bits and pieces of the L2?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Zhenya says:

        Hi Hana
        Totally agree with this: ‘I wouldn’t like to force my parents to watch movies in English […] just because it’s good L2-wise.’ In fact, the part about ‘any other language’ was a reality in Ukraine when in 2006 we switched dubbing and subtitling from Russian into Ukrainian. At first this was new and not everyone accepted, but in fact lots of people love the quality. The ‘choice’ part versus a ‘force’ part is crucial though, and big decisions would never satisfy everyone. I think it’s great when acquiring bits and pieces of L2, L3, etc. can happen as a part of real life activities. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. tulinkei says:

    Hello again Hana,
    I really enjoyed reading about your lesson. It sounds like a fun topic to talk about to the students.

    Liked by 1 person

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