I have been watching a lot of shows on Netflix lately in French but with French subtitles. I find that the subtitles rarely match what is actually being spoken!

Why is this?

For example someone will say 'bien sûr' orally, but the subtitles will say 'd'accord'.

That is one of many examples, long sentences will usually be completely different. This makes using this as a learning method quite difficult.

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    When the original work is not in french one reason may be that written translation can be accurate while spoken translation must follow lips.
    – mouviciel
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 11:06
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    and when the original movie is in French, the subtitles are often shortened for readers not to spent too much time reading.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 11:40
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    ...not to spend...
    – jlliagre
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 15:03
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    This happens in English too, including English-original movies. I think reading vs. listening speed is certainly part of it. But indeed, this is frustrating for beginners. Once you have more fluency you can do on-the-fly matchups between the subtitles and the audio track—I find even unmatched subs provide the key to knowing what I must have heard. Till then, you could practice with movies that have slightly easier French. I seem to remember the recent Belle et Sébastien having a good audio-subs match if you're into Disneyish movies...
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 15:30
  • Nothing specific to French here, you should ask this on Movies & TV instead (if it wasn't asked before, that is). Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 4:48

4 Answers 4


La plupart du temps ce que tu entends et ce que tu peux lire dans les sous-titres veut dire la même chose. Comme @jilliagre l'a dit, cela peut être fait pour que ces sous-titres soient plus rapides à lire, et que le public puisse plus se concentrer sur la série.

Cela peut aussi se produire lorsque des expressions, de l'argot ou du verlan sont utilisés. Il est parfois plus facile de les transcrire autrement.

On peut aussi y voir un intérêt purement financier, les sociétés qui produisent les films ne sont pas celles qui font les sous-titres, et ces sociétés peuvent "bacler" un peu le travail.

(I hope you understood everything, if it's not the case tell me and I will translate)

  • mb pour cette réponse. Une question: quel signif 'bacler'? En anglais, j'ai trouvé la traduction 'scamp'... je ne sais pas ce mot en anglais mdr xD
    – Cloud
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 15:48
  • bâcler with a â: rush, often going fast (not always the case) and do not give intent for a good work.
    – Larme
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 15:56
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    @Cloud "Vite fait, mal fait" : bâcler, c'est finir un travail dans les temps au détriment de sa qualité. Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 15:57
  • Also, to add to this answer, in France, when you translate into french, it's asked to the Author to respect the acting game of the original actors. Thus; words are chosen because they are said quite the same way in original and in french. The subtitles, often do not have this limitation for the aforementioned reasons.
    – LamaDelRay
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 16:10

The dubbing don't only have to translate the meaning : it also has to match the movements of the lips and sound right with the scene. For this reason it can sometimes require to get rid of the exact meaning to find something that both makes sense and looks right.

Subtitles don't have this issue: they only have to carry the meaning without caring for the synchronization with lips movements.


I have been bothered by this phenomenon as well, and I don't claim to know the answer. However, my theory is that while the audio is written and performed one way, the subtitles are simply machine translated from the original English. My guess is that it is a cost-saving measure. (If someone wants to prove or disprove that theory, I don't mind being corrected.)

Whatever the reason for the difference, I do hope that at some time in the future the subtitles can be made to match up to the dialog. I am also trying to learn French from Netflix, and it would be most helpful if I could read what was actually spoken.

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    The issue predates by far the availability of decent speech recognition and machine translation technologies that, anyway, are still far to be able to produce reliable enough text, shortened text keeping the intended meaning (would require the software "understand" what was said), to reliably detect what is said in a noisy environment, far to identify what to keep and what to ignore when multiple persons speak together. While isolated mistakes certainly happen from time to time, I'm convinced that SR+MT based subtitle would so much spoil movies that some people would ask for their money back.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 6:31

Une bonne réponse (en français) se donne ici : https://fr.quora.com/Pourquoi-les-sous-titres-fran%C3%A7ais-sont-ils-souvent-si-diff%C3%A9rents-des-dialogues-de-la-version-sonore-fran%C3%A7aise

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