And the Oscar Goes To: Dubbing and Subtitling!

The last Academy Awards ceremony has put media localization on everyone’s mind. For the first time in film history, both dubbing and subtitling have taken center stage.

If you haven’t heard about the award-winning South Korean film Parasite by now, you may have been living under a rock. It has been all over television, the papers, and social media. For the first time in history, an international film won the Academy Award for Best Picture (as well as Best Director, Best International Feature Film, and Best Original Screenplay). And the film is in Korean with subtitles. This has, of course, unleashed many articles, posts, and tweets about subtitling and dubbing. His speech regarding subtitles at the Golden Globes was particularly talked about by the press.

Dubbing and Subtitling - The Golden Globes - Oscars - Parasite - Winner
Bong Joon-ho, the award-winning director of Parasite during his acceptance speech for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes 2020.

In yet another first for the Oscars, a song was performed by 10 different singers in 10 different languages. The song in question was “In the Unknown” from Frozen 2. This is an important step forward for media localization, showing the international audience how movies created in Hollywood travel all around the world.

Those who are not yet familiar with the practices of subtitling and dubbing may be surprised to find out that the translation in subtitles and dubbing often differ, and that content distributors don’t use the same text for both versions.

Subtitles are always different from the dubbing scripts.

Subtitling and dubbing are two different processes, producing two different translation outputs, and usually done by different people. The translation modes of dubbing and subtitling also present different types of constraints.  

For dubbing, you need to come up with a translation that also matches the lip movements of the person speaking (when there’s a close up). The translation must also be in sync with the timing of the original soundtrack. For subtitling, you need to fit the text in the time that you have while the person is speaking, respecting shot changes and character length restrictions for each language. 

Dubbing and Subtitling - Friends - TV show
A scene from the episode “The One Hundredth” from Friends.

In the Spanish dubbing, they made the decision to change this particular reference to Captain Spock from Star Trek since the show Happy Days was completely unknown in Spain. In the Spanish subtitles, however, they kept the reference to the Fonz because subtitling is a “vulnerable” translation. 

That is to say that viewers have access to the original soundtrack and if you dramatically change the translation as with dubbing, the viewers will be suspicious about the quality of the subtitles and they may likely complain.

It is therefore advised not to reuse translations from dubbing and subtitling since each translation mode requires different approaches and techniques.

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14 February 2020
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