Italy has had a long and very strong history in film dubbing which has yielded some of the best dubbers in the world. This, unfortunately, has led the Italian film industry to indirectly deprive Italians of the possibility to learn another language: it is becoming increasingly difficult for the younger generation to master foreign languages, which would drastically improve their future.
Prior to moving to Italy, I knew that this Mediterranean gem would offer a very rich gastronomical culture, diverse landscapes, classical architecture and warm, passionate people who sometimes speak more with hand gestures than with words. What I did not know, however, was that Italy has had a long and very strong history in film dubbing yielding a select number of top class dubbers in the world.
The history of Italian dubbing dates back to 1932, during Mussolini’s fascist era, when any foreign cultural influences, particularly from the United States, were not coveted by the regime. Besides the political reasonings, many Italians were also illiterate during that time, and simply adding Italian subtitles to movies was not generating enough revenue at the box office. Additionally, many moviegoers claimed that reading subtitles was diminishing the distinctive visual art form that movies would offer. All this combined led to the birth of Italian dubbing.
Watching films at the cinema, at least for me, has always given me the chance to get out of my head and immerse myself in a storyline. After I moved to Italy, to my surprise, I quickly realized that I was going to have a hard time with one of my favorite hobbies – going to the cinema on weekends. I asked myself, how can one truly enjoy a movie if one is not able to understand anything? I soon came to the realization that if you are fortunate enough to live in bigger cities – like Florence, Rome, Milan or Bologna – your chances of watching movies in the original language does increase; however, these chances are restricted to just one or two showings during the week. Moreover, original movie screenings are often shown on selected weekdays rather than weekends, limiting those who work from having any chance of making it to the screening of the movie. And yes, I admit, this is not such a major issue like climate change or the fact that the World Health Organization just named anti-vaxxers as a top threat to global health in 2019. Nevertheless, I believe it is something that should be addressed, especially for the sake of the younger Italian generation.
One major issue is the fact that English speaking skills are being increasingly requested on job applications in Italy. And that’s not all. According to the World Tourism Organization, Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world, with over 50 million visitors each year: it would make sense for the locals to be given the chance to improve their capacity to learn a foreign language in order to communicate with English-speaking tourists. Fortunately, Italian schools have already implemented English classes for their students, but it’s at a noticeably lower level compared to other European countries like the Netherlands and Germany. Italian students also seek help outside of school hours to improve their language skills, since many students often find their teachers speaking to them in Italian during class. I have had first-hand experience with this as I have tutored several Italian students who were frustrated with the English teaching level at their respective schools.
In this particular case, being given the choice to watch movies in the original language would tremendously help those wishing to improve their English language skills. Previous studies have shown that pupils who frequently watched subtitled English television programs and movies performed significantly better on their English tests and had a better command of the English language compared to those who did not (1). The Italian film industry is indirectly depriving Italians from having the possibility to choose to learn a foreign language and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the younger generation to master another language which could help land their future jobs.
But every coin has two sides. I do understand where Italians are coming from. Italy isn’t the only country that dubs foreign films – many other European countries do too, such as Spain, France and Greece, to name a few. Wanting to preserve a country’s language and culture should be respected by its people. Most importantly, foreigners should strive for integration within any given society and learn the local language. Therefore, it must be made clear that my proposal shouldn’t be taken as an excuse for English speakers to shy away from learning Italian. On the contrary, it should give English speakers and Italians alike the chance to watch a foreign movie without disrupting its integrity, including small subtleties like accents and gestures only understandable in the original version of the movie.
I believe the Italian film industry should simply give foreigners and locals the choice and freedom to choose between watching movies in the original language or the dubbed version. Other countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland frequently have screenings of Hollywood movies both in the original language and the dubbed or subtitled versions, and everyone seems to be happy with this arrangement.
- Kuppens, A.H., “Incidental foreign language acquisition from media exposure”, Learning, Media and Technology, 2010.