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Is it bad practice to watch TV shows/movies where the french audio and subtitles don't match?

I understand that sometimes subtitles have to be changed from dialogue because there is only a certain amount of space on the screen and dialogue flows quickly, as well as other reasons. But it gets confusing sometimes, to see one thing and hear another. Currently I'm watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with french audio and french subtitles. But the audio and subtitles aren't really in full agreement.

Here's an example where Buffy talks about how she wants to do something other than fight vampires.

Dialogue: (I want to do something normal)...Comme les autres filles Subtitles: (I want to do something normal)...sans danger.

I understand in context the statements are practically the same, but when trying to understand the words and such I always have to double take. I also wonder about whether or not what I'm reading is meant more for written word as opposed to the actual natural dialogue that mimics real world conversation.

Is this counterproductive? Should I find a show/movie with more accurate subtitles or does it really not matter?

December 28, 2017


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Any practice reading or listening French is good. So if you're not bothered by this too much, you should keep doing it.

That said, it certainly can be annoying. Even when you find movies or TV shows that are originally in French you will often find the French subtitles can be quite different.

BTW, here's an interview in French of someone who does subtitles for American TV shows in France: http://frenchyourway.com.au/fv-001-girl-behind-subtitles


I struggled with a lot of inconsistent subtitles for a long time. As beginners or intermediate language learners, we like our subtitles to match the audio. We are learning, after all, and we want them to be as exact as possible. But close to perfect subtitles are very hard to find, so we have to make do.

But consider this perspective. The fact that you gave some thought to a seemingly simple conversation means that you've closely compared two forms of dialogue. You've learned and understood that in context, the written and spoken statements were practically the same. Sure, you won't always know which is more practical. But the fact that you've learned two ways of saying the same thing in French is actually a big deal.

Of course it won't always be the same for every dialogue. You may struggle a bit trying to figure out what words are coming out of a character's mouth while the subtitles say something else. But I think that struggle is part of the learning process. So in the end, I don't think that inaccurate subtitles is necessarily a bad thing.

For fun, I'll share with you what I do with shows I watch. When I notice any inconsistency between written and spoken dialogue, I first write down the subtitles. Then to the best of my ability, I try to write down what the speaker actually said. (This is where rewind buttons break.) Then I do some research to see if what I wrote is correct. It can be frustrating if you don't get it, but it's a great feeling if you get it right. (I remember it took me months to find "la dodine de canard et les crêpes suzettes flambées" as it was completely skipped by subtitles. I've learned so much about French cuisine in the process of researching those dishes.) I also played around with English subtitles and tried to figure out the actual foreign audio from it. Harder but more rewarding.

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