English Voices: Lingua Franca in Voice Acting

A lot of the media we consume worldwide is in English. That should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody, but here we are, stating the obvious. What’s not so immediately obvious is that English voices form a such a substantial amount of our sonic sphere that we tend to take them for granted.

The fact is that English has become the de facto lingua franca or universal language. It has changed the way we watch, listen, and speak about media. It’s also affected the way we speak, interact, and share information with each other.

Today, we’re going to look a little deeper into the influence of English voices, especially in the voice acting game. If you need to connect to a worldwide, global audience, then they’re probably the way to go, bar none. Also, if you’re lucky enough to be among the millions of native or near-native English speakers in the world, you’re in luck. It means that if you’ve got the right vocal qualities, you could be thinking about a lucrative, fun, and liberating career change.

Long story short, you’re going to need freelance voice acting in your life. If it’s in English, chances are you’ll be increasing your ability to target a wider market. With about a billion total worldwide speakers, you’ll be in good company!

Grab a cup of good, dark coffee roast, and take a walk with me!

English Voices in Voice Acting

Bugs Bunny, Elmer J. Fudd, the Jetsons, Lightning McQueen, Jarvis, the whole Disney animated canon. Among other innumerable examples, they’ve all come alive through the magic of voice acting in the English language. Sure, dubbing has played a part in popularizing these characters, true. It’s also undeniable that their global impact and appeal came from their excellent English originals.

In today’s world, subtitling is also fast catching up, or even displacing dubbing. The access to worldwide streaming services like Netflix is also heavily democratizing access to originals. While this is an interesting phenomenon when it comes to English-speaking countries (who usually prefer dubbing into English), the converse is extraordinary. While most “major” language European countries largely go with dubbing, many choose the subtitled English original.

It’s not really known why this is, as hard statistics about dubbing vs subbing are hard to come by. What is obvious is that some countries were a particular language is spoken to a great degree will tend to prefer content in their own language. This has led to the existence of very healthy dubbing cultures in most “big” European Union countries. What’s also true is that the advent of YouTube and on-demand video has made it easier than ever to access originals. And that’s not just when it comes to streaming. In my country of origin, Argentina, most people go to theaters to watch subbed movies. Audiences are used to reading and generally prefer the charisma and talent of the original voices.

Moving beyond original cultures

This development is perhaps one of the most surprising. The fact that English voices can non-English-speaking markets is not surprising, nor new. What is, is newer generations preferring content in the English language vs their own. This may be due to changes and improvements in education, for one; the other is undoubtedly the combination of streaming and billion-dollar theater franchises.

Everybody’s talking about the hot new thing coming out on Netflix. “Have you seen the new season of You‘?”, someone might ask, to which you could bitterly reply that you’re way more into the new BBC Dracula. The speed of exposure to new TV shows, animated features, and franchises, has become “as quick as you can subtitle it“. It also benefits companies to get a global conversation about their new intellectual properties at the speed of social media. The marketing dialogue has accelerated, and it keeps going faster and faster. The hype and growth cycles for new entertainment are no longer isolated or kept to watercooler conversations. Every Twitter, Instagram or Facebook account is abuzz with activity about a new teaser, a new trailer, a new trailer for a trailer.

We are increasingly becoming focal points for marketing discussions and memes, reproducers of hype discourse. The original concept behind the word “meme” was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. It was originally intended to portray a quasi-genetic unit of cultural, or symbolic value that could be passed on through imitation. Through the power of these memes (and the funny ones), English voices start to become a bigger mainstay across cultures.

The future?

It’ll be telling to see whether this causes an increasing cross-pollination between cultures. It could very well be true that watching La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) in Spanish could have a similar effect in the US if the series catches like wildfire. Maybe the net effect will be more multilingual people, and that can’t ever be a bad thing.

What is clear is that everybody watches Rick and Morty in English, as well they should. You haven’t experienced wonder until you’ve walked across different countries and heard people uttering lines from the episode in perfect English.

Some examples of extremely influential English voices from animation

The Simpsons

The Simpsons were the little family that could. The show went from unlikely, late-night, low-budget success story to all-out worldwide pandemic. You could not walk around in the 90s (I’ve just dated myself) without new Simpsons paraphernalia coming out. T-shirts, video games, computer programs, music CDs. This is where a lot of people got their first taste of the original Simpsons voices.

For example, in Latin America, it was absolutely normal to watch The Simpsons dubbed. The show became a cultural icon, with children emulating Bart Simpson’s translated catchphrases. In fact, any 90s or 00s kid is going to cite this show as a touchstone in their growth process. There are no two ways about it.

In an interesting turn of events, most of the ancillary material to the show never came translated. In a weird cultural crossover event, people were singing songs from The Simpsons Sing the Blues CD in the original English. Video games for the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and later the original Playstation took this even further. In the pre-Internet days, everyone was already enjoying the original flavor, while also cherishing the translation.

No doubt, one of the watershed events in many people’s cultural upbringing, and a telltale example of what globalization would bring.

Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty

Now, if you haven’t watched this show, I urge you to. It’s a postmodern masterpiece with existentialist, cynical themes running through its fast-paced comedic gags. It has a tendency to pull the rug out from underneath you sometimes with clever subversions and mood whiplashes. Part of its endearing (and now, enduring) charms is the stellar, self-aware performances. Justin Roiland, one of the co-creators, voices both Rick and Morty, so we may just be watching the craziest monologue ever. Dan Harmon, the other co-creator, voices several important characters across episodes.

The other vital part about the show is the rapid-fire jokes that cleverly use puns and cultural references. They’re notoriously hard to translate, and generally require rethinking or reframing jokes entirely. The way the global audience sidestepped this? By making the show go from Adult Swim secret to internet meme success. You can’t go two virtual feet without running into the rabid Rick and Morty fandom. What’s more incredible is that the English voices have become the go-to, default mode for people to experience this show. There are just no two ways about it.

Have you heard much about the dubbed versions of Rick and Morty? Neither have I, to be honest, nor do I want to. The show is just a personal beast that lies so close to its creator’s hearts, that it would almost be disrespectful to think.

Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman

Sorry about going so big on animated shows, but actually not sorry. If there was anything that was going to make Will Arnett a household name, it was this. Maybe a trigger warning would be apropos, as this show has very dark, depressing themes running through its core. It’s an adult, gag-heavy take on fame, ego, depression, existence, and plastic Hollywood culture. Not only does it deal in-jokes, but also in surprising blunt, deep emotional subjects. This effect wouldn’t be achieved without the all-start English voices, which include Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame.

Another perk about the original voices is that the show constantly points the finger at Hollywood’s cliches and stereotypes. It just wouldn’t work as well without English lending authenticity to its from-within postmodern critiques.

The value of English voices, and beyond

So, hopefully, you’ve gained some more insight into the growing influence of English across the world. It may seem like small fry from within the US, but there’s no doubt that the audience for English voices is ever-expanding. New statistics will no-doubt be necessary for the near future. Even if about a billion people speak English right now, the cultural prevalence of the language continues to break new ground.

With audiences having increased access to originals from a young age, there’s no telling where the future will take us. New generations will be brought up having access to English shows (and in other languages!), and demand for subtitled, or original content will increase.

With English voices, you’ll reach a broadening audience that will be clamoring for new pieces of hot, interesting media. That demand will not only not stop, but get bigger over time. Another plus is that if you’re an aspiring voice artist, I can tell you that there’s no chance you’ll ever be without work.

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