Dubbing, Subtitling or Lectoring? Historical, economic and cultural reasons behind European countries' choices

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Dubbing, subtitling or lectoring. What do you expect when watching TV abroadSeasoned travelers in Europe will have noticed that watching TV is an experience that varies between European countries. While in some Western European countries, programs are broadcast in original version with subtitles displayed at the bottom of the screen, in others, the entire cast is dubbed in the country’s language. In Eastern Europe, yet a different system is popular: lectoring, also known as "Voice Over Style Dubbing" or juxtareading.

Lectoring consists in lowering the volume of the original program's voice track and a voice talent is reading the translation in a bland tone. That audio track is played at the fore. The logic behind lecturing is to enable the audience to enjoy both the translation in their mother tongue and the original intonation as played by the original cast.

Dubbing, subtitling or lectoring. Why did they select ony one of these options?Choosing between subtitling, dubbing or lectoring depends on the country’s cultural, ideological and linguistic particularities. Germany and Spain choice of dubbing over subtitling or lecturing, for example, is rooted in their history. In Spain, Franco’s dictatorship was in full power when the choice between dubbing or subtitling became an issue. As a fascist nationalist, Franco was virulently opposed to any form of communication that might weaken Spaniards sense of identity and supremacy. As a result, dubbing was the only possible option since it maintained the illusion that the original cast spoke Spanish. The same logic was applied by Hitler, whose pride in Aryan/German superiority reached epic proportion leading to the onset of World War II. Hitler even instructed sound engineers to improve synchronization so as to better protect Germans’ sense of identity when watching foreign movies.

Italy did not need any political justification to opt for dubbing as it started with the first Italian talking movies. Italian movie stars of the silent days were not necessarily blessed with particularly captivating voices, so they were dubbed by others, to the point where they stopped bothering to even follow the script during filming.

In France the supremacy of dubbing derives from the nation's cultural goal to preserve and protect the French language from American influence, and for French to remain the lingua franca for people accustomed to hearing it in their country’s films.

Choosing between Dubbing or subititling - a political decision?European countries that opted for subtitling followed a different logic. When, in 1927, talking movies made their first apparition, the titles inserted between scenes in silent movies disappeared. This created new challenges for foreign market production. One could make several language versions through dubbing but some film producers and distributors found this technique complex and expensive, preferring to mimic the old-style titles by inserting written text into the picture. Thus were born subtitles, a technique much cheaper than dubbing that remains the preferred method in the smaller language areas such as the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries.

Whether you need dubbing, lecturing or subtitles, Elrom-PerfectVoices is ideally equipped to help you. With decades of experience in dubbing, voice over, lectoring, narrating, lip-syncing and subtitling, Elrom-PerfectVoices will guide you to the optimal solution and offer you tailored service.

We can help you for all your sound projects, not only for movies but also for

  • Documentaries
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Contact us on our website referred above for advice or for a quote

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Patricia de Hemricourt has 2 articles online

After working as a translator, a journalist and a marketing manager, I now became a business developer, both for my employer and my own purposes. Additionally, I am also a writer.

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Dubbing, Subtitling or Lectoring? Historical, economic and cultural reasons behind European countries' choices

This article was published on 2013/08/22