Films and other audio-visual presentations are more varied in terms of their origin than ever before. To reach the widest audience it is necessary for these resources to be translated into one or more other languages. Professional audio-visual translators are used to convert spoken words used in a film or informational video into the languages of the intended market. There are two main ways that this translation can take place. These are subtitling and dubbing. The difference between subtitling and dubbing is often a bit of a mystery to those who are not involved in the translation industry, so we have explained the key differences below for you.


Subtitles are straightforward translations of what the people in the film or audio-visual material are saying. The words may not always be literally translated especially if the subtitles are for films. Literal translations of colloquial spoken words aren’t always the best to be displayed on a screen, so this means that they are often shortened and adapted to suit the cultural norms of the intended audience without destroying the message coming across.


Dubbing is not strictly a task for translators as it requires the skills of an interpreter rather than that of a translator. Dubbing involves superimposing the translated words of those speaking in the audio-visual material so that anyone watching thinks that the people are actually speaking their own language. It is usually easy to tell whether the actors are actually speaking the words heard or whether they are dubbed by watching the facial expressions and movement of the lips. Dubbed words don’t quite match what you would expect the positions of the lips to be.

The difference between subtitling and dubbing

The main differences between subtitling and dubbing are:

  • subtitling is the work of translators;
  • dubbing is normally the work of interpreters;
  • subtitling is easier;
  • dubbing is more difficult.

The advantages and disadvantages of subtitling

The main advantage of subtitling is that it easier to translate chunks of spoken text and display it on the screen than finding an interpreter to listen carefully to the words and convert them accurately into dubbed speech. Because subtitling is easier than dubbing it is also the cheaper alternative.

The main disadvantage of subtitling is that those who are watching the film and the people taking part find that they are distracted by the words and phrases coming up on the screen. It’s important to read them to know what is going on, but it distracts from the performance of the characters in the film.

The advantages and disadvantages of dubbing

Dubbing’s major advantage is that the person viewing the presentation can concentrate on watching the film or whatever the audio-visual material is. The viewer uses ears to hear the dubbed speech and eyes to watch what is happening. The major disadvantage is that it requires quiete a lot of skill to dub translated speech as accurately as possibly. This can make it very expensive or quite often very amateurish if done badly.


The skills involved in audio-visual translation are those employed by translators and interpreters. Translators create subtitles and interpreters provide dubbing. High-value audio-visual material does need experienced professional translators and interpreters to do this useful work.