It definitely helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve when learning languages. As we talked about in previous posts, watching movies and television can be a very powerful language-learning tool. Another convenient and effective tool you can use along with videos are subtitles. They’re available on lots of movies, television shows and many online videos, including YouTube. Long-gone are the days of huge VHS tapes with lousy quality and no language settings whatsoever (auto-tracking was pretty cool though). Subtitles can be an invaluable tool and can influence the difficulty of the material you are learning. In this post, we’ll take a look at the different ways you can use video subtitles to improve your language-learning skills.
Foreign subtitles when watching English movies.
Let’s face it, you want to make the language part of your life, but you likely won’t stop watching movies in English entirely. And we don’t recommend you to! Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and understand the movie without having to concentrate on every single line of dialogue. But as you comfortably watch the movie in English, why not put the subtitles in your target language? By doing so, you will often find your eyes wanting to read the subtitles as you hear the English equivalent. So every time you watch something in English, turn on those foreign subtitles if they’re available. Don’t read them if you don’t want to, but always put them there. Do this whenever you want to relax and watch a good movie. While it may not be the most effective method of learning, you will definitely learn a few words. If you don’t put them there, you will learn zero words in your new language. It’s a small change that doesn’t require much effort on your part.
English subtitles with foreign audio.
You should only use this if the movie is foreign and you really want to understand the story. You will see some cinematography from a different country and discover a few culture aspects. In terms of actually learning the language though, this is not a good choice. You may think that since you are hearing the movie in a foreign language, you are learning a lot. But this is rarely the case. You’re a champion at reading English, so even though the audio is foreign, your brain simply filters it out and replaces it by the English subtitles you are reading. After a few days, you will actually remember the movie as if you saw it in English. If you plan on using this, focus will be required on your part. You will need to pay attention to the foreign audio and try to compare it to the English subtitles. It is very easy to stop paying attention to the audio and only read the text, but it can be helpful if you wanted to understand the story before watching it again with different subtitles.
Foreign subtitles when watching foreign movies.
This is the only option if you want to use subtitles in a way that will truly help you. Everything is foreign now, so you are totally immersed in what you are watching. You are practicing reading and listening at the same time and making associations between both audio and written material. It is especially effective when moving up to a new level in the movie scale we talked about previously. You may want to use subtitles when you first start using original material, or when you are watching something with a different dialect than you are used to. The subtitles can back you up and help you understand. The reason native speakers seem to speak so fast is that your brain can’t separate individual words and can’t tell where one word ends and the other begins. Subtitles will allow you to visually see the words you are hearing. That will give you a huge understanding boost and will make a big difference on how much you can take in from the movie.
This is what you are ultimately working up to. Real life doesn’t have subtitles (I’m full of surprising facts, aren’t I?). Wouldn’t it be awesome if they could come up with a way to show subtitles on people’s foreheads? Until then, you’ll need to be able to understand the language without them. Subtitles are like training wheels on your bike, eventually you’ll need to get rid of them if you want to follow the herd.
When used effectively, subtitles can be of great help when learning languages. You can use a combination of different subtitle techniques to make your way up the levels. It can be helpful to watch the same scene a few times with different subtitle combinations. For example, you may want to watch a scene with English subtitles, then watch the same scene again with foreign subtitles before watching it a third time without any subtitles. Try to experiment with these and find ways that work best for you. Just keep in mind that if you are watching content specifically for learning, you must try to focus on the material and pay attention to the language in order to reap the most benefits.
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