Reading Foreign Signs Out Loud

When dubbing, since making the subtitles from translated works would need more people and money, a cheaper option is preferred: written text read aloud, including the main credits, since simply reading them was cheaper. These are called "Insertos" in Latin American dub lingo, where it's pretty much an Omnipresent Trope.

More often than not, the actor reading the "Insertos" also provides the voice of one of the main characters, reading the "Insertos" in his normal voice, or in-character if interacting with said object fits with the plot (reading a letter, holding a product, etc.). As you can imagine, this can be a bit annoying to people not familiar with it, but not in countries where it's common.

Since the arrival of new technology, making subtitles is something far easier. Nonetheless, this still goes on, either from force of habit or, perhaps, the assumption that Viewers Are Morons who can't read and listen at the same time.

Variations include reading exactly what's on the signs and then translating it ("Escuela, that means school"), or making a comment while translating (instead of "hair tonic" is "Now, we will add some hair tonic").

This technique is relatively rare in English adaptations, where non-English signs will usually either be untranslated or subtitled (or, if the localizer has money, digitally altered). When it does happen, there is often an effort for it to feel more integrated into the work rather than a narrator simply reading it.

Not to be confused with Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud.

Examples:

  • From Mexico to the Latin American market, this was done by Humberto Velez, who provided the voice of Homer Simpson for 15 years in The Simpsons before leaving along with all the main cast for contractual disputes. Now, from all the people, the actor who does the voice of Carl does the reading.
    • In Germany, the signs in Simpsons episodes are very often read by the voice of Fry.
    • The Spain dub of The Simpsons has the signs subtitled, but inexplicably, The Simpsons Movie, while dubbed by the same voice actors and having the same translator and dub director, had them read out loud by different characters. It got really annoying pretty quickly.
  • Also from Mexico, Jorge Arvizu, considered the Mexican Mel Blanc, would usually read these on old Merrie Melodies cartoons, more often than not adding some Gag Dub.
  • Thanks to Lucky Translation, this made a Running Gag in Sheep in the Big City (a little guy who likes to read, so whenever a sign appears on-screen he pops up and reads it out loud) many times funnier.
  • In European Portuguese, it's usually done as one character is actually reading the sign. Thus, if character A is the one looking at the sign, it will be his/her voice reading it. However, early anime dubs had the narrator read it, and sometimes overlapping with the actual character's dialogue.
    • In the dub for Dragon Ball, the signs would sometimes have a clear French subtitle underneath (left in since that's the version the Portuguese dub takes after), but the narrator would still read over it.
    • This is being averted in dubs of more recent works, such as Adventure Time and Steven Universe, where subtitles are used instead. And only for the signs, the shows themselves are still dubbed.
    • A very unique aversion happens in the dub of Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!, which predates the use of subtitles: the text on the sign itself is rewritten, making it seem like it was originally written in Portuguese. (In fact, most of the text has been translated and rewritten, including the opening lyrics and the title card.)
  • For some reason, the Disney Channel dubs do both subtitles and voice-over, making it redundant and annoying.
    • Many German DVD releases do the same, usually with different translations of the same sign.
  • This is common practice in Polish dubs of foreign animation (such as Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry), usually with a separate actor solely for reading the Insertos.
  • This was extensively used for Looney Tunes in France, usually with a narrator voice but sometimes with a relevant character's voice (The Rabbit of Seville used Bugs Bunny's voice for jar labels and such).
  • Also very common in German dubs of animated works, but can even crop up in live-action works.
    • The German dub of Spongebob Squarepants mostly leaves foreign signs untranslated. However, when there's something in English that the German audiences don't understand, instead of getting a narrator to read the signs out loud, they'd have the voices of the characters translate for us. For example, in "Dying for Pie", Squidward reading aloud the bumper sticker on his car, (which originally read "Do Not Ask Me About My Day") as "Frag mich nicht wie's mir geht ("Do not ask me how I am"). Later in the same episode Mr. Krabs puts up the 'Help Wanted' sign and literally and despairingly translates, "Aushilfe gesucht!"
  • Used in the English dub of The Millennium Trilogy films, probably necessitated by the story's heavy focus on people looking at computer screens. Occasionally backed up by on-screen subtitled translations as well.
  • Wayne's World has the "Gratuitous Sex Scene" with corresponding flashing subtitle. In English, Wayne conveniently says, "Excellent!" Conveniently because this can easily be replaced by a translation of the subtitle, and in German it is.
  • The Spanish dub of KaBlam! often has a narrator reading the title cards of the various shorts.
  • The Japanese dub of The Powerpuff Girls has the Narrator read most of the written text that appears. This works very naturally, since the Narrator is already a prominent character in the show.
  • The German dub of Recess makes use of this by a narrator.
  • Very, very frequent in the France French dub of Family Guy. To the point that, when a "do not pull" sign was displayed three times in a row, the narrator read it out loud each of the three times.
  • The French-Canadian dub of The Simpsons zig-zags between having characters read English signs out loud (making it sound like part of the dialogue) and displaying subtitles for them.
    • Same for the Hungarian version: most often, the narrator talks over the character dialogue, killing a lot of jokes, even if other signs in the same episode are subtitled. Mind, if the translators don't actually understand what the signs say, or if the gags are too difficult to translate, they simply leave it untranslated, rendering even more gags moot.
  • In the Czech dub of The X-Files, there was always a voice actor hired specifically to read aloud the locations and time stamps. There were two of them throughout the show's nine-season run. In addition, there was inserted info about who dubs the leads' into the theme song. One of those "title guys" would later dub Langly of the Lone Gunmen trio, but fans did not complain. Needless to say, their memetic "FBI Headquarters, Washington DC" was well-loved.
  • Later seasons in the Italian dub of The Fairly Oddparents do it. The weird thing is that is Crocker's voice doing it, even for the writing in the poofs.
  • A variation comes from the French-Canadian sports channel Réseau des sports; because you'll probably never find an official French-language commentary feed of a U.S. sporting event, the network essentially "dubs" broadcasts by periodically explaining the English commentary, graphics, and interviews via voiceovers and injected graphics. However, the original commentary is still audible over it, so it's not a full-on dub.
  • Almost always used in TV channels that share a common video feed across several countries, since if they edited the footage or used subtitles to translate the signs, those would be visible in all countries. For the same reason, when a character in the original work is speaking in a foreign language that's subtitled on screen, dubs often dub the character's dialogue into their own language (maybe with an accent to still make it sound foreign) or have another actor read the subtitles out loud, hoping that it would be comprehensible with the character's voice still being audible.
  • In the French dub of Back to the Future Part II, when future Marty is fired and every fax around his house begin printing "You are fired" messages, this is accompanied by a digitised female voice cheerfully reading the translation for each of them.
  • The 1993 English dub of My Neighbor Totoro had a robotic voice translate the Catbus' Japanese-written destination sign. Disney's 2006 dub instead has Satsuki read the sign in English. Interestingly, when Satsuki and Mei give their mother an ear of corn with Kanji for "For Mother" engraved in its husk, the '93 dub translated it with a subtitle, while the '06 version has the mother read it aloud in English.
  • Another Studio Ghibli example. The end of the very first scene of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind contains a large block of kanji briefly explaining the Crapsack World while the camera pans over a dead town in silence (save for the music). Due to the film's age, no "clean" version of the scene existed for Disney to replace text in for their dub† , so they had a narrator read a translation.
  • A lot of Polish dubs do it via narrator.
    • Same with most of Czech, Hungarian and Russian dubs.
  • In the French dub of Robocop The Series, all HUD text is read aloud in Robocop's voice.