Foreign Language Subtitles For English Language Films: Pros & Cons

If you’re considering placing foreign language subtitles on your latest film project, this article will help you learn more about the pros and cons of doing so.

If you want to extend the reach of your English language film you may well have already considered adding foreign language subtitles to your project. Whilst this can be a great idea, there are some downsides to consider alongside the many different positives that come with this kind of movie addition.

To help you feel more aware of all aspects of this kind of movie production choice, here are the pros and cons of foreign language subtitles for English language films:

The Pros And Cons Of Foreign Language Subtitles For English Language Films

There is nothing wrong with releasing a film in English only, and avoiding any dubbing or subtitling so that only English speakers can enjoy the film. However, you could be missing out. To help you get a better idea of the pitfalls of foreign language subtitling and the benefits, here’s a full rundown of the associated pros and cons:


Preserves The Original Audio Track

The original audio track is such an important part of a film, which is why its subtitles are so helpful – because they preserve it. It is especially important in English movies where the actors have a very distinctive voice or characterisation. Imagine The Shawshank Redemption without Morgan Freeman’s narration? Or Lord Of The Rings without Andy Serkis as Gollum? Allowing the viewer to still hear those characteristics alongside the foreign language subtitles is a great way to preserve highly iconic and important aspects of any film.

Subtitles Help The Hard Of Hearing

Over 5% of the world’s population have hearing loss, and by 2050 The World Health Organisation estimates that 1 in 10 people will struggle with some degree of hearing loss. By adding subtitles rather than, or as well as dubbing, you help those people access English language films.

Most Films Are Made In English

Across the world, over 80% of movies feature English as their main language, with French, German and Hindi featuring often, but vastly less commonly than productions using English as a first language. Whilst world cinema is seeing a boost, the fact is that overall, English is the most prevalent movie language internationally. With that in mind, it could make sense to add multiple foreign language subtitles to an English film, rather than producing it in another language which is not used as commonly in films and so could hinder its reach overall.

Great For People Learning English

Subtitles are great if you are learning English and want to associate the sound of the words and sentences with the subtitles you are reading in your own language. As you become more confident you can turn the subtitles off and test your understanding of the film.

Quick Way To Adapt A Film To Suit A Different Culture

If you want to push a film across the world in a way that is simple and easy, subtitling is the way to do it. You can produce it using the English language and then add accurate subtitles in as many languages as you like. It’s a fantastic tool if you have a low budget and you’re looking to get the most reach from your production.

Allows Many People Who Speak Broken English To Understand The Film Better

Over 90% of people in the UK speak English as their first language, but there are many people who do not speak it well. 0.3% don’t speak it at all, and around 720,000 struggle to speak or understand English well. By adding foreign language subtitles to English films you not only allow non-speakers access, but you allow people who speak broken English, or who are new to the language to enjoy those films. This not only applies to people across the world, but to the many people in the UK who do not yet understand English well.

Not Just Entertainment

Films made in English may be created for entertainment purposes, or a number of other purposes including:

●     Public service announcements

●     Training

●     Safety announcements/ explanations

●     Education

●     Information for foreign visitors

●     Museum or gallery displays

These videos may be made with English as the main language, but their reach and accessibility can go much further with multiple foreign language subtitles.


If Done Badly They Detract From The Film

If foreign language subtitles are done badly they will effectively detract from the film and cause confusion. This could be particularly problematic if the film is for training or other important applications.

Limited To Around 35 Characters A Line

Subtitles are limited in the space that they can take up, which could be problematic if a quick speech is being made and the subtitles have to move quickly to effectively translate what is being said.

May Be An Issue If You Don’t Read Quickly

If you cannot read very well subtitles will be challenging to keep up with and could be very frustrating to use.

No Clear Link Between What You Can Hear And What You Are Reading

As with any subtitling, you won’t fully understand which words you are reading are connected to the words you are hearing. This is particularly relevant if subtitles are in a language with a different sentence structure or grammar structure to English.

May Detract From The Visual Story

Because you are reading the subtitles you may be distracted from the film itself. This is a common problem with subtitles and it can detract from the overall visual storytelling in the film.

Is Dubbing A Good Alternative To Subtitling?

If you want to pursue alternatives to subtitling you could consider dubbing.

Dubbing is where a completely translated version of the spoken words in a film are placed over the original spoken audio. Often, the actors speaking the dubbed language will try to echo the tone or voice type of the actor they are impersonating.

Whilst dubbing is an alternative often used to allow people to become more immersed in a film, it can often leave a lot to be desired when it comes to the results. The best thing to do is use both dubbing and subtitle options if your budget allows, then the viewer will be able to choose.

Wondering What To Do Next? Speak To A Professional

If you are considering adding foreign language subtitles to an English film it is so important that you use a professional service like As a first priority they will make sure that the translation of the script is highly accurate before then placing mistake-free subtitles in a language or languages of your choice. Choosing a professional company to do this important job for you is the only way to get the most benefits out of this kind of movie addition, allowing many more people to enjoy the film easily and quickly.

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