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Reading Foreign Signs Out Loud

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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.) and the camera isn't focused on their mouth so you can't see that it isn't moving. 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. This can also pop up sometimes in works in their original language that use Translation Convention and have written signs and documents in the characters' assumed language rather than also translating said signs/documents, often translating plot-relevant writing for audience ease.

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.

May overlap with Sounding It Out or Voiceover Letter. Not to be confused with Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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 Tony Jay narrate a translation.
  • 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 European Portuguese 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.
  • Spy X Family: Most of the in-universe text is in English, so in the Japanese original of the anime, characters read the text out loud in Japanese if needed. The English dub simply has them read it out loud as it's written.

    Films - Animation 
  • The newspaper montage at the end of Dumbo (after Dumbo becomes famous) has this trope applied to most dubs. Several dubs have an "Extra! Extra! Read All About It!" variant, while the French 1980 re-dub has them announced by Timothy Mouse (who appears in the last newspaper, having signed a Hollywood contract as Dumbo's manager).
  • Several scenes in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are affected in certain dubs, while others were originally translated on-screen for theatrical/VHS releases (as well as some international editions of the 2001 DVD release) but were replaced with the original English panels on future DVD/Blu-Ray releases, thus invoking this trope. Notable examples include the Storybook Opening and closing, as well as the penultimate seasonal narrative text after Snow White's chorale.

    Films - Live-Action 
  • A non-dub example in Jojo Rabbit, which takes place in Nazi Germany and makes use of Translation Convention (most characters speak German which is rendered as German-accented English). All writing and signs are in German, but are read aloud in English by the characters if the information is plot-relevant.
  • 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.
  • 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 numerous digitized voices cheerfully reading the translation for each of them.
  • Another French one. In the original version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, there is a scene where the snake Harry is talking with signals to a sign that reads "Bred in captivity". Harry wordlessly reads the sign and acknowledges what it says to the snake. In the French dub, Harry reads the sign out loud in French while the camera is focused on it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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 RoboCop: The Series, all HUD text is read aloud in RoboCop's voice.

    Western Animation 
  • In some dubs of Code Lyoko, the show title and episode title is read out loud.
  • From Mexico to the Latin American market, this was done by Humberto Vélez, 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 Spanish 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.
    • The Latin American Spanish dub zig-zags this. Signs are often narrated by a male voice in Spanish, but sometimes, characters will read it themselves when it makes sense. For example, in "Sleeping with the Enemy", the "Premiere Credit Union" label on the cup is read by Bart, while Skinner's "test fraud" watermark is read aloud by Homer. In "Jazzy and the Pussycats", Lisa reads the Dream Denied magazine's title and cover in a sad voice.
    • The Italian dub usually haves subtitles for the signs (and in some cases they actually edit the signs themselves to be in Italian), but there is a single exception: during the opening theme song, Bart can be heard reading whatever he's writing on the chalkboard, usually in a very annoyed tone but sometimes adding some extra gags (for example, in the episode "Homer's Triple Bypass" he writes "Coffee is not for kids": while the original version already had the gag of the writing becoming more slurred after each line, in the Italian dub he actually reads it in a slurred way as if he's going crazy).
    • The French-Canadian dub 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.
  • 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.
    • Another common Mexican example is Francisco Colmenero, who has been reading title cards and other signs since the 50s!
  • 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) is made many times funnier, thanks to this being present in various foreign dubs.
  • This is being averted in European Portuguese 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. (This aversion also happens with some older shows, such as Dexter's Laboratory, since the dubs of those shows are more recent.)
    • 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.)
  • Spanish dubs of South Park have a narrator explaining almost everything, including voicing over the disclaimer.
  • 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.
    • Interestingly, in an episode of Angry Beavers when the heroes were experimenting on smelly toes, they justified it with the signs being read aloud by a robot-like voice of a lab computer, not present in the original.
  • 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 German audiences wouldn'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 the bumper sticker on his boat (which originally read "Don't Ask Me About My Day") aloud as "Frag mich nicht wie's mir geht" ("Don't ask me how I'm doing"). Later in the same episode Mr. Krabs puts up a 'Help Wanted' sign and literally translates it as "Aushilfe gesucht!"
  • The Spanish dub of KaBlam! often has a narrator reading the title cards of the various shorts.
  • The Japanese dub of The Powerpuff Girls (1998) 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 Russian dub of Spongebob Squarepants has a similar example to the French dub of Family Guy in "Plankton's Army", when Plankton's first name, Sheldon, is displayed four times in a row (five if you count the close-up shot), the narrator read it out loud each of the five times.
  • 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 lot of Polish dubs do it via narrator.
  • A peculiar case is present in the Italian dubs of multiple Cartoon Network shows: Until early 2016 they translated all the title cards in Italian, but then they changed and left them in English with a character reading the Italian title out loud (examples: Jake in Adventure Time, Bellybag in Uncle Grandpa, Grizzly in We Bare Bears), with two weird examples standing out: The Amazing World of Gumball, where they reverted the title cards for every Season 1-2 episode in English with Gumball's voice reading them aloud - and it's Gumball's voice from late season 2/early season 3, when his voice actor's voice cracked and then he was replaced so it isn't even the voice you hear in most of the episodes with the English title cards; and Teen Titans Go!, where there is no voiceover reading the Italian titles in Season 3+ episodes. You can still find them in the TV guide descriptions.
    • The Italian dub of the Adventure Time episode "Lady Rainicorn of the Crystal Dimension" does something akin in the most weird way: Most of the episode features Rainicorns speaking Korean, with English subtitles underneath. Instead of translating the subtitles in Italian, they just redubbed the Rainicorn dialogue in Italian... with English subtitles still underneath that now have no reason to be there.
  • Done very often in the Norwegian dub of Dexter's Laboratory, even for signs that appear very briefly onscreen and have no importance to the plot. This actually added a good joke at the end of "The Continuum of Cartoon Fools": when Dexter arrives on the "The End" screen complaining that he is now locked outside of his laboratory, the narrator tries to interrupt him by saying "The End" out loud, getting more and more annoyed in the process until Dexter finally ends it and the narrator says "Now it's The End!"


Video Example(s):


Doctor Who in Arabic

The Arabic dub of The Edge of Destruction reads the series and episode title out loud (the English text would been burnt-in to the original recording).

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Example of:

Main / ReadingForeignSignsOutLoud

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