Friday 7 May 2010

My Europe Week: Dumbing down films by dubbing

In the previous Grahnlaw blog post My Europe Week: Why language rights and multilingualism?, we found good reasons for both linguistic rights for EU citizens and for learning foreign languages (multilingualism).

The EU’s language policy has commendable aims: It promotes multilingualism and aims for a situation in which every EU citizen can speak at least two foreign languages in addition to their mother tongue.

The policy documents and resolutions on language learning are heavily weighted towards curricula and mobility programmes for students and teachers.

Excellent, but life is larger than school. Informal language learning is mentioned almost in passing.

The spectre of dubbing is haunting Europe

“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away”. Should we bless our temporal lords?

It is all very well to adopt resolutions on language learning. But to miss out on the zillions of hours spent in front of television sets or watching films?

Within the European Union, in the French, German, Spanish and Italian speaking markets films and television soundtracks are generally dubbed. Instead of the original soundtrack watchers hear local actors.

Dubbing makes for effortless viewing, but for an unaccustomed outsider the experience is often hilarious, even surreal. More seriously, dumbing down film and TV soundtracks is a wasted opportunity of enormous proportions.

See the Wikipedia article Dubbing (filmmaking) for a sad map of (Continental) Europe.

What is the use of European quotas, if the viewers are left in their comfort zone, instead of being offered pleasurable challenges and wider views?

How can we build European public spheres, if a majority of EU citizens escape daily contact with other European languages?

In general, the Dutch and the Nordics are perceived to have better language skills than other Europeans. How much is this explained by original soundtracks and subtitles, even for those who lack higher formal education?

In principle, the United Kingdom seems to offer original soundtracks. However, the Brits are not generally famed for speaking foreign languages. We have seen reports about the further decline of formal language learning. How much does the absence of dubbing depend on programmes being almost exclusively in English, anyway (UK & US)?

Is Europe a continent of missed opportunities for mutual understanding?

My Europe Week

The emerging European public sphere offers us contemporary opportunities for cross-border communication about our common future and our shared concerns. and My Europe Week are but two small examples of a growing trend towards common understanding.

Europe Day 9 May 2010 is worth a Mass for a better future.

Ralf Grahn


  1. Ralf, This may not be a direct response - but:
    I found it interesting watching the UK election via the Parliamentary channel LCP on French TV last night. There were several British contributors - and they were all comfortable (at ease) speaking in French.

    At first I thought this was unusual, since UK schools seem to teach languages less and less (even English cynics might say). But then I recalled these contributors were all from a different generation than current schoolchildren.

    How will French TV find such contributors in, say, 20 years time?

    On the question of dubbed films. We have to put up with some execrable dubbing of other-langauge films here in France. There ought to be a prize for the worst-dubbed film: I'm sure the French would win!

  2. french derek,

    If I have understood the EU recruiting services (EPSO) correctly, they are having problems even finding native English speakers to fill the posts for interpreters and translators into English.

    English is certainly the primary second language within the Commission and the Council nowadays (not the Court), but not knowing the other major EU languages cuts one off from much of the "culture" and history of European integration, because the English discussion is a bit lopsided.

    Well, in 20 years time there are still going to be privileged individuals who know French and other languages, but if Murdoch media continue their wrecking party, are they going to be connected with the EU?

    Yes, dubbed films have been a real experience...


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