The Language of Cinema: Communicating Across Cultures

KASS International Sdn. Bhd. Malaysia

What’s a movie that you’ve watched recently? (For me, it’s MALBATT)

Did you notice the words at the bottom of the screen? (Kind of…)


Every director would want as many people as possible to watch their movie. This goal is achievable thanks to the art of film translation, in other words – subtitling and dubbing. All movies, whether in English, Tamil, French or Arabic, rely on expert translations to reach international audiences and achieve global recognition.


A Look Back at Film History

In the early 1900s, cinema primarily featured silent films that could be enjoyed by viewers, regardless of the language they spoke. Gradually, the industry began incorporating music and spoken dialogue into films. By the late 1920s, a new era of motion pictures was born – marking the arrival of ‘talkies. However, this advancement brought on a new challenge: viewers were now limited to only people who understood the film’s language. Filmmakers recognized that they needed to bridge the linguistic gaps to reach diverse viewers. The solution? Subtitling and dubbing. 


Subtitles vs Captions

Although subtitles and captions are used interchangeably in different parts of the world, they are not synonymous. Captions are transcripts of the film’s spoken dialogue, sound effects, and music. Not only do captions allow movies to be more accessible to the hearing impaired, but they also improve the literacy abilities of those watching. A good example of a platform that enables captions automatically is Netflix.


Subtitles, on the other hand, appear as translated text of the movie’s dialogue. They appear at the bottom of the screen, more commonly found in cinemas. In Malaysia, for example, all English-speaking movies feature two rows of subtitles: an upper row for Chinese subtitles and a bottom row for Malay subtitles.


Creating subtitles is so much more challenging than we, as viewers, seem to realize. The text is only allowed to take up an inch of space on the screen, so that they do not interfere with the visuals. Film translators must condense their translations as much as possible to fit in the designated area, all while maintaining the clarity and quality of the subtitles. Not only that, the timing of the phrases must be perfectly in sync with the audio. This helps viewers who don’t understand the spoken language of the movie to fully immerse themselves into the film; much like those who watch without relying on subtitles.


Although some viewers find subtitles distracting, research suggests that watching subtitled films enhances language comprehension and memory. Subtitles allow viewers to see a word, when they might not have heard the word. From filmmakers’ perspectives, subtitles in different languages will also widen the reach of the movie. Simultaneously, viewers are able to watch movies in other languages and expand their horizons.


Subtitles are great and offer many advantages. Concurrently, filmmakers also have another option: dubbing.



Dubbing is a post-production that entirely replaces the original speech with another language. The new dialogue, more commonly referred to as the “dubbed version”, synchronizes with the lip movements of the actors as closely as possible. The dubbed audio is recorded by professional voiceover actors who replicate the same delicate emotions and subtle tones in the original dialogue.


This complex procedure involves sound engineers who synchronize the recorded audio track with the visuals in the movie. This is especially important in creating the ultimate movie experience for viewers who are watching the dubbed version. Selecting the appropriate voice actor is also a crucial part of the process, as their voice must blend seamlessly with the tone and feel of the movie.


An example of an industry that frequently uses dubbing is anime. Anime is a shortened term for “animation from Japan”. As the definition suggests, most of the films in this genre originated in Japanese. Anime films often come with English subtitles, and over time, many receive their dubbed versions. This allows for worldwide reach and viewing.


Despite its utility, dubbing can be costly and time-consuming as the process requires high standards and expensive equipment. This involves translating the original script to the target language and syncing the dubbed version with the film, requiring sound specialists whose services can be prohibitively expensive. That’s why some anime content does not have dubbed versions at all. In comparison, the effort and time taken to produce adequate dubbing is much more taxing than the process of subtitling.


For some viewers, watching dubbed films can be off-putting, as the actors' lip movements don't align with the audio dialogue. Nevertheless, dubbing remains a widely used technique for reaching diverse audiences.



In today’s world, the success of international streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime heavily depends on the translation industry to cater to a global audience. While translating a film's original content may seem straightforward, it demands time, effort, and expertise to preserve the essence of the message.


Whether you need subtitling or dubbing assistance, let us support you in translating the content. Email us at today!

KASS International Sdn. Bhd.

About the Firm

KASS International Sdn. Bhd.

AddressSuite 8-13A-2, Menara Mutiara Bangsar, Jalan Liku, Off Jalan Riong, Bangsar, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel60-3-2284 7872
Contact PersonDiana Lourds

Related Articles