Why are so many people weary of subtitles? Put a few lines of text on the bottom of the screen and people act like they're about to take on a second job. Well, you better get used to it; the U.S isn't the only country churning out top quality entertainment, and today's streaming services are making massive efforts to centralize movies and TV shows produced around the world. With this, the ability to expand our knowledge and understanding of different cultures has never been more readily available, or entertaining.
But that all starts with you actually pressing play. Get out of your bubble and embrace the subtitle. I'm not going to go into detail on all of the benefits reading can do for your brain, you should already be aware; if not, read more. After a few shows, the subtitles disappear, not literally, mind you, but once you get used to the speed of the text and get caught up in the story, reading the subtitles becomes autonomous.
Some shows and films give you the option to listen to dubbed over audio; this is where voice actors in your native language speak over the original actor. To do this, translators must take what is said in the original language and convert it to another while still syncing the sound with the actors’ lips and overall timing of the show. As you can imagine, a lot of things can't be directly translated, and thus changes are often made to the original dialogue and tailored to the new audience. Due to this, Naruto's catchphrase "Dattebayo," which has no translation, was changed to "Believe it!" one of the most cringeworthy things in anime history. I'm not going to say this is all horrible, voice actors need jobs and some are really good, but I highly recommend watching the show as it was made and reading the subtitles. Subtitles are more accurate with the true meaning of what is actually being said, and learning new words and phrases in a different language is useful and practical in today's global society. All these positives aside, the best case for watching the show subbed is simple, if you can't understand the language, then you can't decipher whether the actors are amazing or terrible. This causes your brain to default and tell you that the acting, at least in terms of speaking, is amazing. Dubbing this can drastically reduce the acting quality and unfairly turn away viewers.
All I ask from you is that when you read a synopsis, if it sounds like your bag, watch the damn show. Don't worry about the language or get frightened that you might actually have to pay attention for once in order to know what's happening. Get engaged and give yourself the opportunity to experience something new.
Take anime, for example. This may just be my opinion, but dubbed anime is an absolute travesty 9 times out of 10. I'm not just talking about poor translations, improper lip syncing, and terrible voice acting here. Anime already suffers from being stigmatized as a medium exclusively for children despite the massive popularity of stories showcasing not just common mature themes such as sex and violence, but also complex philosophical, sociopolitical, and psychological narratives rooted in Japanese culture. Often times, the dubbed translations simply fail to carry over the correct tone and message allowing serious and inspirational dialogue to become cheesy and embarrassing.
Most importantly, however, is how differently we perceive the things we hear versus what we read. While there are visual clues and facial expressions to help guide us, subtitles offer a unique opportunity for the viewer to interpret the message without depending exclusively on its delivery. It may not feel like it, but we read the subtitles before becoming aware of the scene and thus have already digested and subconsciously applied our own unique perspective to everything following, for better or worse. Much like reading a book and picturing it in your mind, with subtitles, you are allowed to do so with the immediate gratification of seeing how it stacks up. And that is truly beautiful . . .
Just remember, I'm not talking about sitting down and trying to bang out a Tolkien in an afternoon. It's one or two lines at the bottom of a screen. You can do it, I promise.