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Subtitles vs Captions

I had a pleasure watching a movie, “Mozart’s Sister”, on my iPad that I rented from iTunes for my recent trip. The reason I mention this is because I was a bit disappointed at first when the iTunes results for captioned movies did not say that the movie was captioned, but I clicked to watch the trailer just in case to see if it was at least subtitled, and I was glad it was. It turned to be a French movie, so it had to be subtitled for English speakers.

While I enjoyed watching the movie and learned more about Mozart and his sister, I did not find it “fully” accessible because it did not include sound descriptions and speaker identifications. Also, I noticed that some dialogues in English were not subtitled because English speakers have access to that language.

Why is it a big deal? The difference between subtitles and captions is that subtitles are intended as translations of foreign movies for hearing people while captions are used by those who have little or no hearing.

Subtitling for foreign movies became more widespread as a result of the debate over subtitling vs. dubbing. I would say that I’m glad that all foreign movies in the States are subtitled because from my experience watching foreign movies in Russia, all of them were dubbed and none were subtitled. The main reason some countries prefer subtitling movies is because it’s much cheaper and less time consuming to subtitle a movie than to dub it so that movies and TV shows can be released rather sooner than later.

Based on the survey of subtitling vs dubbing, proponents of subtitling explain the reason of their preferences to watch subtitles to listening to dubbed conversations for foreign movies:

  • Subtitles preserve the film as an art form and dubbing is “akin to taking a classical painting and changing the colour scheme, or taking the sculpture of a person, for example, and changing the face.”
  • Subtitles are far less obtrusive than dubbing because of “having people open their mouths and words coming out out-of-sync and in a voice which often doesn’t match, either in character or in intonation.”
  • Subtitles help you learn the original language spoken in the movie.

However, even subtitling have their own disadvantages. A blog author reveals the interesting difference between subtitled and dubbed version of the Ghost in the Shell movie that he checked: “I didn’t watch the whole thing like that, as it’s a little distracting to be reading and hearing similar, but different text (talk about your cognitive dissonance). Oddly enough, even though I think the dubbed translation is better, I still think subtitles work reasonably well too. Some of the dialogue sounds ridiculous when voiced out loud, but reading it gives a different experience. Also, it makes sense that the subtitles would be different, as there is a limited amount of space to communicate the same information (apparently there is less space in subtitles than in the audio).”

If native movies can be captioned word to word to be synchronized with speech and dubbing can have more accurate translation, there’s no excuse not to make subtitling as accurate as dubbing.

Also, with all this debate about subtitling vs dubbing for foreign movies, many people seem to forget about their deaf and hard of hearing fellows living in the same country who cannot access native movies without the same language word to word captions and people who are blind or have low vision and also deserve the equal access to movies.

What can be done? The best solution would be to make a movie fully accessible in the native language both aurally (via good quality audio) and visually (via good quality captions) first and foremost before having it translated into other languages via both good quality subtitling and dubbing. It may sound “hard” at first, but with all those advanced technologies available in the 21st century, it is not “impossible”. To learn more how to do this, contact us for detailed consulting and training.

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