The original is the best, says report

Government committee recommends Spaniards watch fewer dubbed series and movies; TV stations should offer subtitles as default option

A government committee is recommending Spaniards watch a lot more television and movies in their original languages, rather than the dubbed versions that continue to be the norm.

The committee, established jointly by the Education and Culture Ministries, has completed a report, to which EL PAÍS has had access and is due to be released in the coming days. Its recommendations include forcing movie theaters to increasingly program subtitled films, for schools to do the same, and for television stations to offer subtitled programs by default (rather than the dubbed version) within two years' time.

"Spain is, together with Italy, the country with the greatest degree of dubbing of audiovisual content," says the report.

Regarding the possible refusal by private networks or dubbing actors to comply with these proposals, Carlos Cuadros, director of ICAA, the Culture Ministry's audiovisual agency, says, "the world of dubbing will not be affected, because it will continue to exist. I think that education will end up creating a demand for subtitled films. Public stations are in favor of this change, because they support programs in [Spain's] various official languages."

Terrestrial digital television (TDT) has made the technological leap possible. "Stations are already broadcasting in a dual system. All you have to do is change the default sound channel to automatically get the sign language subtitle channel. If elderly people can handle that, then pressing a button to hear a program in its dubbed version does not require any effort," says Cuadros.

But the private networks will not hear of it. UTECA, the association of commercial TV stations, would not comment on the report, but in off-the-record conversations called the initiative "absolute nonsense; nobody wants it."

"I think the moment has come," replies the philosopher Victoria Camps, a member of the committee. "Progress is being made in education - and still more must be made - and this progress should be extended to the home. I think people are willing to make the effort, because it helps them to learn languages."

There are lists Spain would be better off not heading. For instance, only 27 percent of Spaniards have a working knowledge of English, according to a 2006 Eurobarometer. Also, 67 percent of Spaniards neither speak nor understand a single foreign language, according to a 2010 CIS Barometer. The same goes for the internet: 58 percent of Spaniards feel they are missing out on important information available on the web because it is written in a language with which they are not familiar; this rate is only below the Greeks (60 percent) and well above the European average, according to another Eurobarometer from last May. These figures only confirm what everyone suspected: Spaniards speak few foreign languages, and badly at that.

Do people who watch subtitled TV shows and movies speak more languages? In Europe, it would seem so. But therein lies the conundrum. There are no studies making a direct link between subtitled content and better language learning, yet it is true that people in countries that broadcast original-language material have a better command of foreign languages.

In Spain, TV programs are dubbed, and fewer than three percent of spectators choose subtitled movies.

"This is a result of the 1940 law [which imposed dubbing under Franco's rule], which in my view is unconstitutional because it predates 1978," says Francisca Sauquillo, president of the Council of Consumers and Users and another member of the government committee that recommends more subtitling.

Other members of the group include Rafael Escuredo, former regional premier of Andalusia; Enrique González Macho, president of the Spanish Cinema Academy; and Francisco Moreno, academic director of the Cervantes Institute. Their report asks the government for "audacious measures."

"There were some serious arguments, especially when it came to the issue of film, but we think we need to encourage real bilingualism in Spain," says Sauquillo.

Enrique González Macho adds: "Languages are not learned at the movies. Some colleagues proposed a quota for subtitled movies, which would sink the market for movie theaters. People would go home to watch the dubbed versions on TV. That is why we did not include time limits for movie theaters, but did for TV stations. It's a supply-demand problem, it's a national education problem. And the first educators are parents inside their homes."

The committee was created after a Senate amendment from July 12 that asked the government to encourage subtitled content and the dissemination of Spain's official languages. All the Senate groups voted in favor except the Popular Party (PP), which abstained. The PP won an absolute majority in the November 20 general elections, and is due to take power on December 21.

"We were told they thought we should go even further," says Cuadros. "We did not present our report earlier because we could not do so during the election campaign." Now, the new conservative government will have to decide if the report goes into a drawer or whether it signals the beginning of a profound social change.

The English-language film <i>The Help</i> screens in its original version in a Madrid movie theater on Wednesday.
The English-language film <i>The Help</i> screens in its original version in a Madrid movie theater on Wednesday.CLAUDIO ÁLVAREZ
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