That is the Question.
I live in the Czech Republic, or “Czechia” if that’s your thing, which has a long and successful history of dubbing. Turn on your TV and everything is dubbed: Big Bang Theory, Murder She Wrote, IT Crowd, films from the UK, US and France, absolutely everything – you name it, it’s dubbed into Czech, whether on the public broadcaster Česká Televize (“Czech TV”), or one of the myriad commercial TV channels.
And most of it is pretty good. People will tell you they simply cannot watch The Simpsons in English because the voices are terrible compared to the perfectly dubbed Czech version. I’m a fan of the hilarious British sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, but I can’t watch it with Czech friends because apparently the voice of Craig Charles sounds awful as Dave Lister – they prefer the voice of Czech dubber Martin Sobotka.
However, there is an increasing desire among (especially young) Czechs to ditch dubbing in favour of subtitles (yes, boring and annoying subtitles) and their reasoning is sound.
The argument goes that popular broadcast television dubbed into Czech is holding back the country’s language learning opportunities – if all TV programmes were subtitled, as they are in Scandinavian countries, for example, then people would naturally develop better foreign language skills, they say.
“But think of the children!” I hear thee cry.
Kids can’t be expected to read subtitles, can they? If you stopped dubbing, how would the country’s youth enjoy Peppa Pig and Ninjago?!
Well, picture this: a child in the Czech Republic, or “Czechia” if that’s your thing, watches television for the first time: Wow! The wonder! Moving pictures! Colours! Kids don’t care much for what’s being said on screen (ever seen Teletubbies?!) and they’d soon figure it out, it’s what they’re programmed to do. I mean, how do you think kids learn how to speak in the first place?
Many films at the cinema are already subtitled, and the process is well under way in the world of computing and gaming, but, and this is the hard bit, it would take courage from those in a position to make it happen in the mainstream media, as well as a concerted effort and quite a bit of willpower (and maybe a little faith) from the general population.
When those kids grew up, there would be no need for dubbing (or subtitles for that matter) on their favourite British sci-fi drama, and the people of the Czech Republic, or “Czechia” if that’s your thing, would be multilingual, better educated, more open-minded, and much more tolerant as a result.
And if I were a cynically minded conspiracy theorist, I might tell you that that is the exact reason it will never happen...