Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dubbed magic

As a translator of written texts, my main focus is the transfer on the content and style of the text to be translated into the equivalent in the target language, English in my case.  Watching the Hebrew-dubbed version of Mary Poppins, I was reminded of the lecture by Richael Glickman I heard at the recent ITA conference regarding dubbing of children’s shows. I watched the move in awe at the level of translation.

The translator/dubber succeeded in doing took things that I could never imagine impossible.  Not only did the translator express the idea but added two elements that involve the ear. The syllables /  speaking time in the Hebrew must closely match that of the English.  That equivalence is far from simple since English uses some 40-50% more words.  In other words, Hebrew translators actually have to add fillers to “complete” the text.  Moreover, the nature of the sounds as reflected by the form of the mouth, such an open “o” or closed “t”, must be the same.  So, even the words in Hebrew and English are parallel in terms of length, they may be inappropriate in terms of the video picture. If the character ends the song with a open mouth, you can’t have the localized version with a closed sound.  It simply looks funny.

As a demonstration, watch the youtube video of Spoonful of Sugar in several languages. In my opinion, the Danish was masterful but the Japanese dubber did not quite succeed.  As for the Hungarian, anybody that has ever heard Hungarian knows why the song was not even translated. (

So, if you wish to appreciate the art of dubbing, I strongly recommend looking at scenes from Mary Poppins or most Disney movies in Hebrew or most other languages.  Amazingly, it actually appears like the song was written in the target language.  That is truly seamless translation. 

*I would be interested in hearing about dubbing in other languages.

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