German Language Blog

Movies in German! Posted by on May 26, 2015 in Culture, Language

When I grew up, I got used to movies in cinemas and TV dubbed in German. Every character in a show or movie has their own voice. I never disliked it, as I grew up not knowing English, and having movies in German is then quite convenient. The other option, as in for example the Netherlands, is to subtitle movies, and leave the audio in the original language. Though when I was very young, those subtitles went a bit too fast for me. It is something to get used to, and often seen as one of the reasons why the Dutch speak such good English.

To me, the German dubs always looked quite real. The movie titles are also always translated, and sometimes not literally. For example, the movie Identity Thief is called Voll Abgezockt (Completely Ripped Off).

When I went on exchange to the USA, this all changed. I enjoyed one year of American life, and also American TV and movies (of course, just in English, without subtitles). I got used to them, and noticed how much realer a movie becomes when the language fits the actual setting. I always found it weird that American roads, buildings, people, surroundings and especially cultural things had a sudden German touch to it because of dubbing. When I returned home, I could not watch a German dubbed movie anymore. Suddenly, I saw how fake it looked, how badly synchronized it was… And mostly, the same voices represent different people in different movies and shows. For example, Manfred Lehman is responsible for the voice overs of Bruce Willis. You can listen to some of his samples here.

And this is an example of how this then sounds like:

The main problem for me is that the movies lose a lot of sense. Of course, subtitles could not make up for this well, but still. The original language can make up a lot for that gap. As an example, in the above video, Bruce Willis talks about a baseball card (Baseballkarte). In German, that does not make any sense, “baseball card” is not really a thing in Germany. This is the same with many puns, expressions and other cultural things that just don’t “flow” that well in German.

Of course, watching movies in German, whatever the original language, will help you learn the language better! Though I would refer you to good German movies, like Türkisch für AnfängerLola Rennt, Die Welle or Goodbye Lenin! But just be aware of the difference between movies from different cultures!

Could you imagine him speaking German? (Image by Geoffrey Chandler at under CC BY 2.0)

What do you think about dubbing foreign language videos?

Do you prefer subtitles?

How is it in your country?





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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


  1. Allan Mahnke:

    This blog entry reminds me of so many things. First, a short story by Wolfgang Borchert, Der Stiftzahn oder Warum mein Vetter keine Rahmbonbon mehr ißt (The False Tooth or Why My Cousin Doesn’t Eat Caramels Any More). It is a hilarious story of a pre-war Saturday morning children’s matinee. These were also very popular in the US during my childhood. I commend it to everyone! Second, we are finally getting some of the very entertaining television programs from Germany, and one of our favorites is the Brunetti series, starring Uwe Kockisch and the rest of his wonderful cast. It is, however, a great delight and a source of more than a few chuckles to see all of the scenes played out on location in Venice and spoken, obviously, in German. It is all quite clear and easy to understand. After the first few minutes we adjust. But novels written by an American, taking place in Venice, and spoken in German are great fun!! I always prefer subtitles to dubbing!

  2. Carol:

    Here in Brazil, the movies and series in broadcast tv is always dubbed and sometimes it has the option to set the original audio. So, usually, when I watch it, I set the original audio.
    After I got cable tv, where is more common to see movies and series in the original audio, I couldn’t stand the dubbed version anymore (even though there are terrific brazilian dubbers). And I noticed that my English got really improved by watching the movies in the original audio (sometimes even without subtitles). That’s something I really recommend for people wanting to improve an foreign language.

    But, there are movies that I saw dubbed when I was growing up (those classics from the 80s and 90s) and that the voices in Portuguese are so good, that I actually enjoy watching the dubbed version. And I also choose the dubbed version for the Disney classics! I don’t even consider watching Beauty and the Beast, Alladin, Toy Story, Little Mermaid etc in the original audio!

  3. Henry:

    I find original voice preferred in non-animated films but like you, prefer the Disney films in the language I first heard it in. (i.e. I like the Portuguese Mulan better than the original after seeing it first in Portuguese.)


  4. Hans:

    When in Germany I usually prefer doubbed movies. Most are well made. In fact, the base ball card example doesn’t come over hard because of dubbing, but due the missing relevance in Germany. They could have used some other item. In fact, in flicks somewhen until the 80s, they made – much like Carol said – quite better dubbing, particular by adepting the story to the targeted audience.

    There are _very_ few films where the original voice is a must.

    And German (same goes for Portuguese and Spanish) dubbing is done on a professional level, delivering great results for casual viewing. it’s a complete new soundtrack. Unlike dubbing where the voices are done over the existing soundtrack.

    Ever watched Russian TV? On voice speaks all characters complete out of sync and in a 1950s news style. Sometimes, they go out of their way and have two speakers, a female and a male voice doing everyone, parted by gender, while you still hear the original voices below (and sound effects way turned down).

  5. Mike:

    “Though when I was very young, those subtitles went a bit too fast for me”

    That is precisely why dubbing is a good thing. Even the Netherlands dubs cartoons and children’s films. Many children (and many adults, at least American ones) simply cannot read and comprehend written complex dialogue quickly enough to enjoy a movie for which they have to rely solely on the subtitles.

    Also, we should not forget about people with visual impairments. If they do not understand the original language fully (and remember, not having all one’s senses can make language learning much more difficult), they simply cannot enjoy the movie at all without dubbing.

    I actually find dubbing fascinating and a work of art in and of itself. I find it great fun to imagine various actors and actresses speaking German.

    As far as the effect on English proficiency, one should not have to use movies as a language learning tool if one does not want to. The Spanish government was wrong to consider a dubbing ban based on that.

    Besides, in our internet age, is anyone forced to watch the dubbed versions? All my DVD’s with German dubbing also have the English audio as well as subtitles in both languages. I have been watching with all combinations to help build my vocabulary and listening comprehension.

    • Ralph:

      @Mike Which is why you should ALSO have BOTH versions in the cinema. For example, you could show a movie in both dubbed and subtitles versions so people could CHOOSE whether they want it dubbed or not.

      Like, you have a german movie theater where they will play the latest Johnny Depp flick in dubbed at 8:15 and subtitled at 9:00, for example. Just like they have a 2D and a 3D version of a movie to choose from.

  6. Christianna Hellwig:

    Thanks for your thoughts. My father’s family emigrated from Germany when he was a boy and I’ve always enjoyed the language though he never encouraged me to speak it. I’m now trying to CLEP out of German for language credits in college and though I don’t disagree with any of the points you made, for simple purposes of learning the language better, might not German dubbed movies be a great way to go? That’s my take anyhow. If I want a good film, certainly I’ll go with the original language, however, the dubbed films do have their merits! 🙂

    • Sten:

      @Christianna Hellwig perhaps… but what about English movies with German subtitles? That, as long as I lived, I heard is one of the reasons the Dutch speak better English than the Germans. But that could also just be good ol’ rivalry.