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We Speak English: Tajik TV Stops Dubbing Hollywood Films

A cinema house in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe
A cinema house in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe

Mehrangez is a university student in Dushanbe who says she has few opportunities to talk with native English speakers. So she didn't expect to understand much when she watched "The Great Gatsby" recently on Tajik television.

And she was right. Now that state broadcasters no longer voiceover or dub many of the English-language movies they show, Mehrangez had a difficult time following the dialogue.

"I only understood two words," she says. "They were 'hello' and 'madame.'"

Still, she watched the film to the end, convinced that one day she will be able to understand English-only movies as easily as she and most other Tajiks understand Russian-language movies today.

"I already have watched many American films [on Tajik TV], and the one which I think is the best of all is 'The Great Gatsby,' the new film," she says. "I think [watching] English films, American films can improve our English."

Tajik state television began airing English-language films in their original versions just a few months ago. But with three channels now showing Hollywood and Bollywood films without any translation help on Sundays and Thursdays, the films are already carving out a space for English in Tajik life that it has never occupied before.

WATCH: Tajiks on the street talk about how they use American films to improve their English

Tajiks Stop Dubbing Hollywood Films
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Komro Safarov, the deputy head of the country's First Channel, says the new initiative is based on the idea that young Tajiks of earlier generations learned Russian precisely because films in that language were not translated when they were broadcast across the Soviet Union.

Now, as the number of people in the country who want to learn English increases, giving them the opportunity to hear English the same way should greatly accelerate their progress, Safarov says.

"It is through watching and hearing people speak that one accelerates the learning process for a foreign language," he says.

Two other state channels -- "Safina" and "Bahoristan" -- are also now showing English-only films two days a week.

Parvon Jamshed, the chairman of Tajikistan’s Association of Teachers, says only 5 percent of the population speaks English today.

Still, interest among many young people is high. This year 1,000 Tajik secondary school students applied through the U.S. Congress-sponsored Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program to study for one year at a high school in the United States. One hundred of the applicants were accepted.

The interest in English in Tajikistan has already created a boom in English-language courses in state schools and in private training centers. But Jamshed says that what has been missing until now is any integration of English into the Central Asian country’s public life.

"Currently, there are a lot of language centers and most institutions of higher education include study of the English language," he notes. "But because few people ever communicate in English, the only way for them to develop their fluency is viewing movies."

Ironically, most foreign movies shown on Tajik television today are dubbed or voiced over into Russian, because they come to Tajikistan via the Russian market. The translation causes no concerns because Russian has been the country’s second language for more than a century and remains widely understood.

However, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has said that every citizen of the country should know both English and Russian, as well as their mother tongue.

The initiative to begin broadcasting English-only films came direct from the presidential office, Safarov says.

The heads of state television have announced that they will increase the broadcasting hours for original-version movies in both English and Russian in the future, though they have yet to provide further details.