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There’s been quite a discussion going on among my friends about this plan of TVP2 (one of the Polish TV channels, link sadly in Polish only) to start using Polish subtitles for some of its programming. And it’s about blerry time, I’d say!
You see, while most countries either use subtitles in their native language or dub foreign programs completely, in Poland the set-up is slightly different. There you have one person (normally a guy) reading the lines of all actors in Polish while the original soundtrack is still somewhat audible in the background. So let’s say, you have Dr. House going on one of his usual rants and you can just barely hear Hugh Laurie’s voice muffled by the sound of the Polish reader. Sounds weird? It is!
And now TVP2 decided to start showing original English language programming with Polish subtitles. In other words, like it should be. The program selection will be targeted towards teens and the idea behind it is that it should help the kids learn English.
And the reaction of the public? Surprisingly, only 19% of Poles want to have subtitles, the people actually prefer the reader! And they give you a myriad of excuses why the dude reading the lines out loud should stay. They say that it’s impossible for kids to read that fast. Oh really? Then it’s time to learn to read faster. The level of reading skills among Polish youth, and not just youth, is truly atrocious. I myself have several friends who, for all intents and purposes, are functionally illiterate.
The public then says that Polish, being a Slavic language, is too complicated and difficult to translate nicely into coherent subtitles. Oh really, again? Slovakian is a Slavic language too, and somehow those poor Slovaks manage to read their subtitles just fine. The public complains that visually impaired viewers won’t be able to enjoy TV if there’s no one reading the lines. Here, they do have a point, and their concern for their fellow countrymen is really touching. Not like all those heartless Scandinavians for example, who must live in countries where everything on TV, without exception, is only subtitled.
What puzzles me the most is that films shown in Polish movie theaters are subtitled, have been subtitled for ages, and somehow people can read fast enough and nobody sees a reason to complain. But try to stick subtitles on TV and there’s a public outcry. There are opinion polls and studies and expert opinions pretending to prove just how ineffective subtitles would be and how physically impossible for people to read fast and comprehend. (So, my question again, how have they been managing at the movies all those years, huh?)
And then, there are some naysayers who don’t believe that this initiative will help at all with convincing kids to learn English. Maybe not, but don’t you think it’s worth a try? Because isn’t it odd that in places like France, where everything on TV is dubbed, the level of English is what it is. Or rather isn’t. And just the opposite is true in the countries with subtitled TV programming. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
So I say, bring on the subtitles and you’ll see that everybody wins. Kids will start learning English, and the rest of us will be forced to get reacquainted with reading again.