Why do translated subtitles never match the dubbed audio?

Whatever the reason is, I’ve noticed that probably 99% of the shows I watch on Netflix, AppleTV, Disney+ etc. all have Spanish subtitles that don’t match the Spanish audio. It’s generally pretty close but I’d say that probably 30%-50 of the words are just completely different. What the actors are saying is not what the subtitles are showing.

My issue as a language learner is that when the subtitles don’t match the audio, I get confused and can’t really understand what is being said. My brain is reading one thing and hearing something different.

Is this because it’s being transcribed twice? Once by the person doing the subtitles and again by the voice actors? If that’s the case, why can’t they just figure out some way to go back and do the subtitles again once the audio is finalized? Why has this issue become like a standard accepted practice by the industry? Surely I’m not the only person bothered by this, and it’s pretty much across the board an issue.

I would even prefer a machine translation, similar to how youtube will put subtitles automatically… it’s not always perfect but it’s way better than what I’m used to seeing.

Any suggestions on what I can do to fix this or make it better? It’s gotten to the point where I’d rather just have the subtitles in a different language from the audio or just not have subtitles at all…

The only times they really match up is when the audio is the native version of the audio for that show or movie.

Also a lot of youtube content does a good job… like TED talks and certain language learning channels where the creator takes the time to create good subtitles.

Anyways, just wanted to vent. This is a daily issue for me. Wish I could fix it…


I’ve wondered this too. It seems like it’s translated twice and it would be extra work and expense to do that. I don’t know the answer, here’s a couple guesses

A) Maybe it’s just to make it easier and quicker to read. Subtitles often seem (to me anyways) to be shorter and simpler than what’s actually said.
B) Market conditions. Subtitling is going to be much cheaper than dubbing, so maybe the subtitles are just basic translations of the original subtitles and then it’s determined later that a dubbing makes financial sense so a better translation is produced for the dubbing.
C) Maybe, the subtitles are done before the dubbing and the dubbing team while saying their lines improvises and makes the speech more natural.

None of those reasons seems all that good to me, but it’s for sure an interesting question. Can anyone think of other reasons?

The trick is to just view the subtitles as giving you the meaning. Knowing the meaning often helps you figure out what was said. But yeah, it would much nicer to accurate subtitles.


I found this Why Are Netflix Subtitles So Bad? – The Hollywood Reporter

“There is a widespread lack of appreciation in the industry for just how challenging the work of a subtitler can be, insiders say. Workers in the field are generally required to limit the length of their subtitles to approximately half the number of letters or characters that are available for an audio dubbing script, but they also are expected to retain the full meaning of dialogue while making it so easily readable that it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the onscreen action. The task is difficult enough when the meaning is straightforward — but when translating across cultures, it seldom is.”

So it seems ease of reading and screen space are the biggest reasons.


Not the only one to hate this and be baffled by this. I hope somebody has an answer

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I’ve also noticed this and it is extremely annoying. If you are hard of hearing or a language learner it is very important that the subtitles exactly match what is being said. It completely throws me off and I find it totally unacceptable. I will refuse to watch shows that have this issue because it is so unbearable.

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The answer is because the subtitles and the dub are both translated from the same source (not from eachother), usually by different people.

These translations end up being different as phrases can be translated in different ways, and different translators will speak differently.

If you want the subtitles to match, you need to look for “closed caption (CC)” subtitles (this is what they are called in English, in French they are called “OSD”. Most native content has matching subtitles, but its much rarer with dubbed content unfortunately.


This is true, but I want to offer a solution. The solution is to get language learning chrome extensions for netflix. These often will make it so that the dubbing will have accurate subtitles.

Some Chrome extensions include: Inkah and Language reactor.

I started watching Avatar, the Last Airbender live action TV show in Korean dubs, but I just found out that the dubs on the computer match up with what they are saying, which is much more helpful. There is research that shows that subtitles help with language learning, so it would be important to watch shows with accurate subtitles. value of teletext sub-titles in language learning | ELT Journal | Oxford Academic

That means native shows with Closed Captioning (as opposed to subtitles). But for many of us, we don’t really have access to native shows, or we might not find any we enjoy. Hence dubbed shows.

You can also search for content on netflix by dubbing in korean, and I think that sometimes accurate subtitles might be available even if it doesn’t say they are with these chrome extensions.

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I see this is an old thread and without realizing it was asked/answered I re-asked the question recently and got some great replies. I ended up purchasing the rooster extensions and they worked great for this purpose. There is a little bit of a learning curve for this particular function if you are not already familiar with the tools.

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