The Czech Ministry of Education called recently for the country’s public service TV station Česká Televize to show more films with subtitles. The suggestion is that the language skills of Czechs will improve if fewer of the movies they watch are dubbed.
Currently imported films broadcast at prime time on Czech Television’s main channel are dubbed, and several of the actors who voice the parts of foreign stars are extremely popular. For instance, for many Czechs the films of the French comic actor Louis de Funes are inexorably linked with the voice of František Filipovský.
It seems the use of dubbing has allowed a number of French stars for instance to become household names in the Czech Republic in a way they are not in English-speaking countries. Czechs express surprise if you admit to never having seen the films of de Funes, while I myself was taken aback to learn some years ago that kids in elementary school were familiar with the likes of Jean Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon, known only to cinephiles where I come from.
The ministry’s suggestion has, wholly unsurprisingly, met with resistance from actors who earn a living from dubbing. They say, and it would seem credible, that fewer people would be willing to watch movies with titles. Though the standard of dubbing may have declined somewhat, the practice is said to have a strong tradition here.
That said, many people with any kind of serious interest in cinema find dubbed movies anathema, and would rather not watch a film at all than see it with somebody speaking their language over it. And some non-native speakers of have told me their English comprehension skills have been improved by hearing the original language while reading titles.
Coverage of the issue in the Czech papers has included references to countries like Sweden where English programmes, including cartoons, are broadcast in the original, meaning people are forced to learn to understand the language from a young age. And everybody knows how great the Scandinavians are at English. But we’re not talking about subtitling versus dubbing in this case, so bringing up their methods may perhaps have only clouded the issue.
In any case the Education Ministry has no power to force Czech Television to show more subtitled movies, so the idea, which has done the rounds before, is likely to fizzle out again. It is highly probable that most viewers in this country will go on watching the faces of foreign movie stars but hearing the voices of Miroslav Moravec, Valérie Zawadská and a number of other much-loved dubbers.
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