As a British child growing up in Spain in the 70’s and 80’s watching American and British films and series, dubbing was the norm. We simply didn’t know any better. When I went to university in Barcelona in the first half of the 90’s I discovered a whole new world in this respect: films in VO.
Cinema Verdi, in the fashionable Gracia area of Barcelona, was our choice venue then. Not only were the productions of the “arty” or “non-commercial” variety not generally available in smaller towns, but for the first time we got to hear the actors’ natural voices.
The dubbing industry in Spain is strong. With a population of around 47 million the investment is commercially viable. Obviously, hearing the actors’ real voices cannot be improved: it was what was recorded in the first place and slight nuances and inflections in the language delivered by the original actors are an important part of the films or TV series.
Having said this, I have to say dubbers in general do a great job. Later on in life I took to looking closely at the synchronisation between the video and the dubbed audio, and both the translating and the timing are excellent.
But can the original version be bettered? No. The answer is as clear as the light of day. What’s more, do people who switch to VO go back to the dubbed option? I would also quite safely say no. As good as it may be, dubbing will always sound unnatural and there will always be some elements “lost in translation” as they say.
I don’t have the statistics at hand but surely the VO viewers in Spain are rapidly growing in numbers. Until not many years ago only city dwellers had the VO option at specialised cinemas, but as we now know the choices are endless on the many streaming services offered.
The likes of The Netherlands, Portugal or Greece are many years ahead in this respect, as they have been using the subtitled original version for decades now, which has greatly helped in the learning of English (quite often with an American accent!). As the level of English rises in Spain, people will feel more confident watching films in English and this again will improve not only students’ levels but also the general public – it’s a positive Catch-22 situation for everybody (except for dubbers, sadly).
Personally, I’d say dubbing has its days numbered. Obviously, this won’t happen tomorrow or the day after: millions of Spaniards in the over 40 bracket still watch dubbed productions, but the day will come eventually.