In 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.