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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Why it’s time France stopped dubbing English-language films and TV series

A campaign by an English teacher in southern France for films and series to be broadcast in their original version on French TV is gathering pace. She tells The Local why it's vital France ends the outdated practice of dubbing foreign films.

Why it's time France stopped dubbing English-language films and TV series
YouTub screengrab Trailer "The Shape of Water"

Take a flick through French TV channels on any night and you'll spot numerous Hollywood films or blockbuster American TV series being broadcast.

Turn the volume up and it's likely you'll hear French voices performing the roles of the American actors.

If you press a few buttons on the remote control you might be able to find a VOST (original version with subtitles) in English but not always.

But a French high school teacher of English in southern France believes it's time to change all that, so people can appreciate the performances of foreign actors but chiefly for the sake of the language ability of her pupils.

Delphine Tabaries-Poncet, 33, who teaches at a lycée in the town of Beziers, southern France has launched a petition on the site Change.org calling for an end to the dubbing of foreign films and TV series and wants all foreign programmes broadcast in their original version.

“People say the French have problems with foreign languages but it is because they do not have the opportunity to hear them regularly enough,” she says.

“There are many countries where films are not translated and broadcast in their original version with subtitles and their language level is much higher than ours.
 
“When is our turn?”
 
The continued dubbing of foreign films has long amused and confused foreigners in France and even led to mockery. But on a more serious level it has long been a seen as one of the chief reasons why French pupils' levels of English lag far behind those of their counterparts in other European countries.
 
Tabaries-Poncet said she realised the hindrance that dubbing TV series and films was having on her pupils' development when a Romanian boy arrived at her school.
 
His level of English was far superior to his French classmates and she put the reason down the fact that in his home country he had been exposed to English language films from a young age.
 
“I think showing movies and series on TV in their original versions would be positive as people in France would be exposed to foreign languages from their childhood,” the teacher told The Local.
 
“It would be normal for them to hear it and it's not difficult to explain to children why a film is in English.”
 
READ ALSO:
 

Here's what the French need to do to speak better English

 
 
When asked how can the French improve, the authors of the study and other language experts point to the importance of exposing children to English-language films rather than the dubbed French versions.
 
France could really learn from the Nordics – a region that is consistently at the top of the rankings – when it comes to leaving films to their original languages,” says Nenad Djokic, France's Country Manager at Education First.
 
“In France it's only been in the last three or four years that you have even had the option to change TV shows and movies to the original version,” he said.
 
Adding English subtitles to English TV shows could take things even further, says Stephen Wragg, the managing director of the French-based Business and Technical Languages (BTL) school.
 
“The problem with French subtitles is that people just end up reading them, they don't listen and learn from the spoken words. Netflix is leading the way by offering an English subtitle option,” he told The Local previously.
 
But one of the problems the Beziers English teacher may face is that the language guardians in France have long resisted the cultural invasion of English, hence the quotas for French songs played on the radio and French films screened in cinemas.
 
The thought of English-language films and series dominating the TV channels might be too much to take for many traditionalists.
 
But Tabaries-Poncet believes this stance is futile.
 
“I understand that people want to preserve the French language,” she said.
 
“But we are talking about movies that are not even French. It's not because we dub a movie that it becomes French.
 
“I don't understand why people would want to deny viewers the chance to hear an Oscar winning performance by an actor by dubbing it into French.
 
“Can you imagine if the French did it for English-language songs too? It would be stupid. So why do it for films?”
 
Often the question of “version originale” versus “version française” comes down to a generational divide with younger people, especially those who live in the big cosmopolitan cities where English is often a requirement to get a job, preferring to watch original version films.
 
But the older generation in France, especially outside the big cities, who have grown up with the French versions of foreign films are still quite happy to continue watching the dubbed versions, especially as the French voices of well known Hollywood actors are so familiar to them.
 
“If we showed only original versions of films on TV it would be a problem for those who are not accustomed to it,” accepts Tabaries-Poncet.
 
“People would be scared of watching everything because they would have to read the subtitles and it would be difficult, but we have to think of the positive impact on the younger generation.”
 
If her pleas ever reach the Elysée Palace they may fall on sympathetic ears. President Emmanuel Macron is fluent in English and is not afraid to demonstrate his language ability when needed.
 
He is also aware of the importance of young French entrepreneurs being able to speak foreign languages, particularly English as he attempts to sell France as the ultimate start-up nation.
 
He has often spoken of wanting to drag France into the 21st century. So on a language level at least, ending the dubbing of movies would be one way to do it.
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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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