How Not To Localize

Friend of mine asked if I could translate some texts for his game. I joked and asked “if could do voice acting too?” He replied that “text will do” and then he started to ponder if “it’s okay to have English voices and Finnish subtitles?”.

This made me ponder that perhaps one of the key things in localization is to remember that it’s not only about language, it’s also about the culture. For example, here in Finland many of us probably prefer watching foreign movies with English speech and Finnish subtitles. Some (non-Finnish) experts suggest that we Finns “lose” something for the experience and we should translate the language. As a Finnish guy, I strongly disagree and here’s one example.

I have seen one Finnish spoken episode of Bold & Beautiful. It was the most hilarious comedy I’ve ever experienced in television. I laughed out loud for the whole episode. It was pure comedy. It’s simply because it simply sounded odd. It’s better to have good English actors than replace them with cheap Finnish ones. English speech is okay (since most of us understand some English anyway) with Finnish subtitles. That way we actually experience the feelings of the original actors, but also get translated about the key ideas what was said.

So… I think localization that doesn’t take into account the culture has a greater risk of failing than localization that understands the cultural aspects.

It can be easier and cheaper too (just think of what it costs to create a whole new voice acting compared to adding subtitles only, and we Finns probably like it more that way too. At least most of us who understand English..)

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Dubs in movies are really bad in general and you do lose a lot from the original ‘better’ acting. Also, all dubs movies sound like they took place inside an audio studio. Wait.. the voice actually was reccorded inside an audio studio, that’s why ;)

    Imagine going to watch your favorite singer live… expect that it was someone else singing… Well that’s almost the same with movies.


  2. Yep I prefer Kung Fu movies with the original soundtrack for sure. Plus I’ve learned a bit of Chinese by watching them.

  3. Haha, Bold and Beautiful is pretty hilarious in its native tongue, from what I’ve seen. Not that I’ve watched much of it. For me, laughing is the only way to endure a soap opera.

    In Australia, I find it’s a similar situation to what Derrick describes. People want to watch movies so they can tune out. For myself, it depends on my mood. If I’m kind of exhausted from a day’s activity, giving my mind a rest by watching an English movie is most appealing.

    But when it comes to watching foreign movies, I much prefer subtitles to dubbing. Most of the dubbed films I’ve come across and later watched in their original language with subtitles, turned out to be much better the second time round.

  4. From my experience living in America I can tell you that foreign films are treated kindly by the general movie-going audiences of the states, and that they would much rather watch films and tv shows with the voices dubbed instead of being subbed. I’ve seen many incredible films get snubbed and tank in America because of this, audiences here go to the movies to watch and listen passively while they let their brains take a rest so that they can veg out.

    Personally I would much rather have the situational context of a movie preserved through a good subbing rather than having actors lipsink their voices to the original work.

  5. I’ve got a lot of interest in the localization process, and I have to agree that some works are very, very difficult to adapt – on the TV medium, “Family Guy” is a good example on how cultural references and wordplay will definitely go amiss on translated versions.

  6. I saw that B&B episode too. Funniest thing on earth. I can’t stand dubbing. Rarely done well, translations suck most of the time thus missing jokes, points, important story plots. Even subtitling suffers from this.

    TV-series usually go fast given the half an hour show time. And the fact that theres some rules how long subtitles should be on-screen. If lots of things happen at the same time, subtitler has to make a choise. We lose a joke there, miss something else here. I see it all the time.

    That’s a one reason I stop watching TV at all. If I want to watch certain series, I’ll go and buy the dvd’s. Because of our geographical point, the whole season probably is out already. Plus I can watch it when I want, w/o 10 minutes worth of commercials. Win-win situation =)

    That’s my 2 cents.

  7. I do completely agree with you, I’d prefer to watch a foreign film in it’s native tongue and concentrate on the subtitles. Unless the dialogue is rediculously fast and I find myself constantly focused on the words, missing the images completely.

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