Subtitles or dubbing: what side are you on?

A new series is announced on a streaming platform. It looks interesting, so you save it in your favourites. Then one day you’re finally ready to watch it. It’s a foreign series, so before beginning you inevitably ask yourself: do I choose the original version with subtitles or watch it dubbed into my mother tongue?

With the boom in audiovisual content these days, especially series and films through online payment platforms, that question is now a conundrum faced by many.

Video content undeniably predominates on the Internet. And not just entertainment content, such as series or films, but also advertising and social media content, such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.

Faster, more interactive and more visual: video represents the world today and lets you send a direct and global message.

The question is: in what language do we receive that message?

According to a survey recently conducted by Preply[1], 40% of Spaniards watch videos in the original language version with subtitles in Spanish (abbreviated “VOSE” in Spanish). This increase in the use of subtitles is understandable, given that it’s a good resource:

  • They allow reaching a larger audience without too much investment
  • They are a method of inclusion for people with hearing problems
  • They are convenient because they allow videos to be viewed and understood in public places
  • They allow viewers to appreciate the overall interpretation of the actors, meaning with their original voices and gestures
  • They offer a fun way to learn a language

It’s also true that choosing between subtitles or dubbing is highly related to the local culture: while in Nordic countries subtitles tend to be used when videos in foreign languages are watched, in Spain dubbing continues to be quite common.

And we’re not surprised! Despite the fact that subtitles can be a good tool, they can also be tedious: if you have to read all the time, it’s difficult to fully enjoy what you’re watching, plus it requires a certain level of concentration, which prevents you from disconnecting.

With subtitles, the video is less fluid, and the information may be incomplete because subtitle texts are restricted due to space requirements and reading speed.

Conversely, good dubbing let’s you get fully into what you’re watching. If it’s done by a good dubber, you might enjoy what you’re watching even more than the original version due to feeling more connected to the interpreters. And in the end, our mind ends up very naturally linking certain characters to voices in our own language.

A good dubbing actor or actress has the following traits:

  • They sound convincing and natural
  • They are true to the expressiveness of the actor: they modulate their voice to fit the actor’s
  • They themselves are performers
  • They have good diction
  • They have experience in dubbing and are familiar with vocal warm-up techniques
  • They know how to synchronise their voice with the actor’s interpretation
  • They convey emotions and the subtleties of the plot
  • They naturally use expressions and idioms that are particular to their language
  • They can make their voice fit the character they are dubbing

All this makes for a very good viewer experience and allows us to completely capture the message of what we’re watching.

We should recall that dubbers are professionals who have received specialised training and who are continuously practising. Their job consists in bringing us closer to audiovisual content so that our viewer experience is enjoyable and relaxed.

For us, we think that the answer to the question “subtitles or dubbing?” depends on what each person considers to be most important. And there’s one thing that we’re certain about: whether it’s subtitles or dubbing, we don’t play around! We always recommend using language professionals, because they are ultimately the ones who achieve the final objective: successfully getting the message of audiovisual content to viewers.

[1] Preply. Why are subtitles increasingly more popular in Spain? [Online blog].