Switch on your TV here in the Czech Republic and you’ll see numerous familiar shows – Dr House, Bones, Downton Abbey – but they’re invariably dubbed into Czech; rarely are they shown in the original with subtitles. A group of secondary school students wants to change that, and have launched a new campaign to petition public and private broadcasters to stop dubbing their output.
That was a bit of The Big Bang Theory, if you didn’t recognise it – dubbed beyond recognition and smothered in canned laughter by the commercial station TV Prima. It’s still hugely popular, despite the fact that few Czech viewers have ever seen - or rather heard - the original.
Switch channels and you’ll find endless more examples of popular American, British, German and other films and TV shows – from old classics like Columbo to new shows like CSI – that are almost without exception dubbed into Czech. But there are many people – mostly younger viewers – who find the practice hugely frustrating, and not to mention detrimental to the nation’s language proficiency. Jan Papajanovský is an 18-year-old secondary school student from Děčín in North Bohemia.
“I think dubbing is a relic of Communism. I think that in countries where they are using subtitling more than dubbing, they’ve got better English. Because studies and opinions of experts show us that dubbing is moving our country back in language teaching. In countries like Finland and Sweden they speak English very well, and I think it’s partly because of their subtitling instead of dubbing.”
Jan is the chairman of the High School Students Union of the Czech Republic. He and his colleagues have launched a new petition campaign to persuade both public and commercial TV stations in this country to gradually eradicate dubbing and replace it with subtitles.
They want to put pressure on Czech Television to either replace dubbing with subtitles or offer dual audio channels so viewers can choose to watch either a dubbed version or the original by pressing a button on their remote control. This option is rarely used by Czech Television because it’s more expensive. But if enough licence-fee payers say they want it, says Jan, they’ll have little choice.
With commercial stations there’s obviously less room for manoeuvre; Jan says the students want to use public debate to change attitudes amongst viewers and put pressure on the stations to follow the example of Czech cinemas.
“When you go to a Czech cinema, there isn’t dubbing at all I think now. Only movies for children are dubbed now. So I think people who want a better cinematic experience are now looking for movies without dubbing. It’s true that many people, especially older ones, they think that dubbing is part of our culture because they think our dubbing is very good. But it’s not true.”
That’s the massively successful BBC TV series Downton Abbey. It’s popular here too – Season Three is showing here on Czech Television, dubbed into Czech. It’s a perfect example of what Jan and his colleagues want to change. They’ve launched an online petition and Facebook campaign, and seem to have the ear of the Education Minister.
There’s also been a heavy public backlash of course, with many arguing that dubbing is deeply ingrained in the Czech popular culture and subtitles don’t suit older people or the language challenged. It gives an indication of the depth of feeling over what is a very divisive issue.
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