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Translation works best when it is read: choose subtitles over dubbing

You will often find linguists are also world cinema lovers. This might be a wild generalisation on my part but it is based on past and present work and personal entourage. By the way, I am not saying that the love of foreign film is a linguists’ club. I used to be a committee member of the Film Society in the small market town where I live and it attracted (and still does) viewers from every walk of life.

In the English-speaking world however, non-Anglophone films struggle. This is also true in other countries where dubbed films attract larger numbers than subtitled ones. How many times do we hear comments such as “I’m not watching this, it’s got subtitles in it”? Why are subtitles so off-putting? Are there better alternatives? I must admit I now find it simply awful to watch dubbed films, especially in French, my mother tongue. Everything sounds wrong and flat and has lost all sense of genuineness. Why are subtitles so difficult to handle? For sure, it requires an additional effort and concentration but it opens so many doors to other stories, cultures, mindsets, acting styles, landscapes and music! My job involves French translation and language training, two activities reliant upon communication, but I also see it as a small bridge between cultures. A bit idealistic perhaps, but my love of foreign films is not the product of art-house snobbery or some form of intellectualism. I am genuinely interested in other people’s language and culture. Call it altruism if you want, or open-mindedness.

I recently read an article on the place of films in a foreign language at the Oscars. To date no such film has ever won Best Picture. One reason put forward in the article was as follows: “narrow-minded studios, subtitle-phobic audiences, money-hungry marketers: there are a lot of things standing in the way of Oscar glory for a foreign language film.” Is this all down to the States then, to dictate what gets to be seen? Luckily the DVD market and organisations such as Lovefilm.com in the UK offer more opportunities to enjoy these films.

So go on, get out there, find the cinemas or the film societies that show foreign films in their original language! Broaden your horizons by immersing yourself in unfamiliar territory and let the music of another language tickle your ears for a couple of hours. It is worth the effort!

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