Let me explain. As usual, on my Liane’s Morning Talks in the Mirror, I’ll start with a story.
Hearing and reading stories was my childhood. I grew up in a part of the world where, every Saturday, everyone would gather around the oldest tree in the village and… you guessed it: share stories.
One year, my neighbor got a TV. This changed everything. It revolutionized the hundred year old tradition of making a fire, putting up books on the tree, and listening to the stories of life.
With this event, our habits changed. In time, we started gathering around my neighbor’s living room to watch TV. Now, every Saturday at 8pm sharp, we’d watch Star Trek.
I had a beautiful childhood!
Dubbing was the way
In Eastern Europe, subtitles were not a thing back in the day. Every foreign movie or TV show was dubbed. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read on!
Dubbing means people speak over other people in a different language. Keep in mind, 20 years ago, the technology was not the same quality as today. Thus, every movie was a movie dubbed in Ukrainian or Russian with an English echo in the background. You have to hear it to understand it. It’s an experience in itself. And, not really a good one.
Those Saturday evenings, together with all the kids in the village, paved my way for the life I’m living now. The space discovery, the ideas of quantum physics and, most importantly, the ideas of connection with everyone, of listening and understanding, of becoming friends – these shaped me as a human being. I built a life where my love for exploration and science, and my love for human connection and understanding, is at the basis of what I do, and what I believe in.
But it had its downsides too. None that I was directly aware of when growing up. This knowledge came later on when I went to university.
Let me tell you, subtitles rule the world!
For a long time, I stayed away from what we’d call “politics”. I thought that not expressing my opinion was how I could ensure everyone around me felt included.
Wrong. Sharing an opinion opens the path for others to share theirs. People relate, which allows people to feel like they belong.
So, here I go. I was born and raised in Eastern Europe, where the Soviet influence was astonishing. I don’t know how much of a history buff you are, but probably if you do know something about the Soviet Union, it is that it wanted to rule the world. And for a while, it did.
It was powerful, and loud. Still, all the television was in Russian. Rarely, in the local language. All the shows and movies were always dubbed. There was no chance for anyone to learn any other language. We were allowed to speak our local language (sometimes!), and of course, Russian.
Think about it. The dubbing of other language movies was about power, and maintaining the status quo. It created the illusion of a full world and different cultures. But, provided it in specific and very well protected frames.
The world was much more open outside the boundaries of the Soviet Union. In Moldova and Ukraine where I grew up, my desire for curiosity stopped when I sensed I was crossing a limit, one that I often wasn’t even aware of.
Then I went to study in Romania. And growing up rather poor, I had to support myself. However, I couldn’t get a job, because every single part time job I applied for required a minimum knowledge of English.
This scared me. It made me cry and doubt that I could ever make it. And then I met Vlad, my classmate and friend, who casually told me to watch Star Trek.
But I did watch it, I said. So how come you don’t understand English, he asked. Our universal translator was absolutely not working at that moment, because we were saying the same thing but we were not speaking the same language.
You see, in Romania (and most of the world!) movies were primarily subtitled, and not dubbed. That’s how kids would learn a language. This was the cultural and language immersion you could get back then, and they were doing it!
Meanwhile, because this was not the case in Ukraine and Moldova where I grew up, I was so behind.
Yes, subtitles are why I can write this article today
So, I followed my friend’s advice and re-watched the whole Star Trek series in its original English with Romanian subtitles. Yes, all of them!
It was mind-blowing. I also watched them again with English captions. Oh! Did I fall in love with them!
Over 80% of people use same-language captions when they watch videos. Over 75% of students use captions or subtitles when watching their educational videos. Over 40% of people globally are neurodivergent. Over 85% of the population around the world doesn’t speak English.
Having captions and subtitles is a MUST.
It’s not an option or an afterthought. We, the ones who speak English, who are neurotypical, and so used to all the things being for us and about us – we have no idea how much of a difference they can make. Subtitles ARE inclusion. Captions and subtitles are how we bring equity to this world. There is no debate.
I’m grateful for where I am today, and I will do what I can to help others get the advantages and privileges I received. That’s why I’m at Amara, and that’s why I’m sharing all of this with you.
YOU can make a difference, like a subtitle. You can make the world better, more inclusive, more equitable, more beautiful. And you can get started with the Amara Free Editor. Sign up or sign in to work on some subtitles when you are ready! Or join some of our volunteer teams to help others access relevant content and information.
If you want to talk more and see how we can pull our knowledge and strengths together, and make a change in the world, leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Comment on “In a world of privilege, be a subtitle.”
Li, this story is amazingly inspiring. I’m personally grateful and especially glad that you’re willing and able to share it with the world. ❤️
PS. I didn’t watch much Star Trek in my younger years, but am now in the middle of season 4 of ‘Star Trek: the Next Generation’ and am enjoying the hell out of it :D.