Bad Translation and Untranslatability
Translation is one of the biggest problems of dubbing. There are a lot of things that are directly in reference to the respective culture and language of a movie and thus impossible to translate into other languages.
A vulgar sentence like “Yippie-Yah-Yeah Motherfucker” in Bruce Willis’ debut Die Hard, can’t be translated into other languages while retaining the same meaning and the same vulgarity. The German translation, for example, is “Yippie-Yah-Yeah Schweinebacke”, which translates to something awkward like “Yippie-Yah-Yeah bacon-cheek”.
Many comedy shows depend on puns. Comparing the English original of a show like Friends with its dubbed version, it quickly becomes clear that the dialog makes much more sense in the original. Ambiguous word play is commonplace, as the video example demonstrates. This of course applies to many other shows, like The Simpsons and Futurama or even House and Monk.
Friends: “Donald Trump wants his blue blazer black!”
Mixing of languages
Using various languages is an essential part of the story line in many movies. The award-winning movie Babel for example is about the misunderstandings between different cultures caused by language barriers. Five languages are being used there – and it would definitely made no sense to dub this movie.
Using different languages plays a smaller but nevertheless important role in movies like The Marathon Man and Indiana Jones. These movies contain frequent scenes where German or (ex-)Nazi characters speak German. Watching these movies in the dubbed version one cannot help but wonder why the other characters do not seem to understand these dialogues. Watching the original version though, it quickly becomes clear that the English-speaking characters cannot even understand their German antagonists due to their lack of German language skills. Obviously, a lot of a movie’s humor gets lost this way.
A similar situation presents itself in the already horribly dubbed show Heroes. One of the main story lines of the first season draws on the fact that Hiro, a Japanese, does not speak English at first and slowly learns it later on. In the show’s German version this bilingualism has been completely eliminated; the only language Hiro speaks is German. That doesn’t only destroy the sense of the plot, but also the charm this character used to have.
Louis de Funes: “Muskatnuss, Herr Müller!”