Learning a new language? Dubbed films are here to help!

If you are a native English speaker, you may have never experienced seeing a film dubbed in another language. However, many films today have dialogue re-recorded in several languages, rather than using subtitles, so the movie may be distributed around the world.

Depending on the popularity of the film and the budget of the studio, a film could potentially be translated in up to 40 or more languages.

Walt Disney Studios typically translates a live action film into about 15 languages, while more popular films, such as the immensely popular film series “Pirates of the Caribbean,” may be translated to about 27 languages.

However, animated films are an entirely different story. Pixar’s 2012 film, “Monsters University,” was translated into almost 40 languages.

“We redefined what dubbing can be,” said Rick Dempsey, the man in charge of Disney’s character voices division. “We ensure that the lip sync is as close as possible. In animation, it’s uncanny. You would think some of it was animated in the local language.”

When Disney’s character voices division began operation in 1992, the goal was to create films that children and families around the globe could enjoy. For a long time, subtitles were the go-to way to do this. However dubbing became increasingly popular as audiences preferred hearing the characters speak their language, rather than reading subtitles. Although it costs $100,000 to $150,000 to create a version of a film in another language, the payoff is much better than that of English movies with foreign subtitles.

“These films are going so well that you can justify the cost of all these extra languages,” said Andrew Cripps, an international executive who has worked for Imax and Paramount.

As dubbing has become increasingly more common in the world of cinema, many films are being translated into more obscure languages.

In 2013, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope became the first film to be dubbed in the Navajo language, Diné. The film was first screened for one night only in Window Rock, Arizona, where it was projected onto the side of a ten-wheeler truck at the rodeo grounds. Fewer than 100,000 people speak Diné, but the film quickly gained traction, earning many more screenings, a DVD release, and the spark needed to create more films dubbed in Diné.

Through their collaboration with Lucas Films, the Navajo Nation museum has been able to provide classic entertainment translated in Diné to the public, as well as increase awareness of the Native American language that is quickly dying out.

The film has also opened doors for actors who speak Diné.

“The translators have done a fantastic job, you know, translating the Navajo language to where everything fits,” said actor Anderson Kee, who provides the voice of Obi-Wan-Kenobi in the Diné version of Star Wars. “They helped out a lot while recording, there’s always two [translators] on hand so you don’t get in trouble.”

Despite hundreds of actors around the world who routinely record foreign language dubs, the actors in the English language version of a film who are fluent in other languages are becoming increasing popular to voice animated characters.

DreamWorks Animation’s spinoff film of “Shrek”, “Puss in Boots”, starred Antonio Banderas as the titular character in the English speaking role, as well as in the Italian, Latin American Spanish, Castilian Spanish and Catalan dubbed versions.

Though five languages may be much more than expected for most voice actors, several other Hollywood stars are often tapped to recite their dialogue in the other tongues they speak. For example, Christoph Waltz and Diane Kruger provided the English, French and German dubs for their characters in the 2009 film “Inglorious Basterds”.

With any language translation, there are always important changes to be made. In order for the film to make sense, it is imperative the dialogue is slightly adapted in order for jokes to make sense and to assure there are no cultural barriers.

In the “Die Hard” film series, for instance, Bruce Willis’s John McClane says “yipee ki-yay, mother******”, while in German the line is translated to mean “yipee ki-yay, pork cheeks!”

Aside from a few chuckles at the expense of some silly translations, watching movies or television in another language is a great way to learn a language and become more comfortable speaking it.

In an article for IWillTeachYouALanguage.com, Olly Richards explores how one can supplement their language learning by watching films. He recommends watching movies you’ve already seen, turning off the English subtitles and concentrate on what is being said, and repeat what you hear aloud. This will help with understanding what is being said, rather than just hearing dialogue.

Have you tried watching movies with subtitles or dubs to learn a new language? Share them with us here!


Kate Joseph

Kate Joseph

Kate is a junior at Simmons College in Boston, Mass., studying Communications with a focus in Journalism and Media Arts. She can’t stop watching stand up comedy and adding an unrealistic amount of books to her ever growing “to read” list. In her spare time she likes to go kayaking, explore new places and make videos. She hopes to pursue a career that combines her passion for writing, film and global equality.

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