Hungarian TV is dubbed. Not all of it obviously, some of it is originally in Hungarian anyway, but foreign language films and series are dubbed into Hungarian. Hungarians are extremely proud of their dubbing industry, and claim it to be fantastic. This may indeed be the case – it’s obviously better than the Polish/Russian dubbing industry which involves the original backing track being muffled a little and one bloke doing sort of a consecutive interpretation job over the top – regardless of what gender, age, species etc the speaker is supposed to be. It does seem also to be superior to the Spanish dubbing system.
The Hungarian dubbing factory seems to employ a large number of dubbers, many of whom do really pretty good accents which seem to stay quite close to the original (the bloke who dubs Thomas the Tank Engine, for example, seems to have managed somehow – at least to my ears – to have come up with a kind of Hungarian Scouse accent). (It doesn't always work flawlessly though, even on kids TV - the woman who dubs Dora the Explorer - who in her Hungarian incarnation teaches English whilst conducting her adventures mostly in Hungarian - for example,seems not actually to speak English rendering her pronunciation extremely amusing and/or cringe-inducing)
My problem is that saying that you are the world’s best dubbers is akin to saying that X is the world’s best instant coffee. It may be true, and you may even be proud of it, but ultimately it’s pride in an excellent version of an inferior product.
Based on my experiences as an action researcher in both teaching English and watching TV (by which I mean I have done both of those things a fair bit, and thought about this from time to time when I''ve got nothing much on), I have long held the theory that countries that dub their TV are significantly worse at speaking English than countries that subtitle. Obviously dubbing/subtitling is not the only variable here, but it is my submission that dubbing is a significant one of the variables. The Portuguese (subtitlers), for example, speak much better English than the Spanish (dubbers). They also speak much better English than the Brazilians who speak the same first language, but who are also dubbers. (There is a stress-timed/syllable timed variable here, which cannot be discounted, but I think it does not account for the whole difference).
Note: This theory excludes my own monolingual countrymen whose language skills are not noticeably improved by the fact that we subtitle and don’t dub, but I’d say that this was because if we import CSI or Desperate Housewives, we don’t need to do either, and if we were actually watching French films three times a week, or daily doses of Venezuelan Telenovelas, we would, I believe, through language exposure be better at those languages. Well, not Venezuelan because that’s not actually a language, but you know what I’m saying here.
Hungary is, according to a Eurostat survey a couple of years ago, which I am unable to locate at the moment, so you’ll have to take my word for it, the most monolingual country in the EU. Bearing in mind that the EU also includes Britain and Ireland, this is a pretty poor show. (I suspect that the numbers of immigrants in the UK and Ireland skew the figures considerably and Hungary really is not quite as bad as to be behind us, but even so the figures show something). Yes, Hungarian is a language which is radically different from English, for example, but then so is Finnish and Estonian and they’re up among the top countries. I’m also fairly certain that Hungarian L1 speakers (for those not familiar with the jargon, L1 means first language) in Romania speak better English than those in Hungary (and this is on top of the fact that Romanian Hungarians have to be functionally bilingual anyway because of the need to speak Romanian. English is, for most people here, a third or fourth language). Romanian TV? Subtitled.
So, join with me in SOD (Subtitling Over Dubbing). We can change the world. There is the minor problem of what to do with the obviously very talented people who are employed in the Hungarian dubbing factory should anyone pay heed to this message and throw off the shackles of voiceover, but there is enough work, I hope, in the cartoons/childrens programmes end of the market (I think subtitling TV programmes which are aimed at children who cannot be expected to be able to read subtitles would be a bit much, I’m not that hardcore of a SODomite. There are branches of our movement who believe that even shows aimed at the very young like In The Night Garden, ought really to be subtitled as it would (in their words) “encourage the lazy little bleeders to learn to read as well as to pick up a second language”.
In the meantime, I’d really like to discover that Albanians of a certain age all speak English with Norman Wisdom’s accent.
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