Boosting language learning with subtitles Boosting language learning with subtitles

Boosting language learning with subtitles

February 17, 2016

Have you ever been astounded by the proficiency some non-natives have of the English language? When I meet people from countries like Israel, Iceland and Norway, who chat away as effortlessly as the average Brit or American, I’m always completely baffled (and quite jealous, I must admit!).

When I ask these people how they got to this amazing level of proficiency, I’m given the same, simple answer every time: ‘I’ve just always loved watching TV!’

We watch a lot of TV in Germany, too, but all the programmes are either domestically produced or, when imported, dubbed into German. The same is true in Hungary and France. Language studies in Germany take place in a purely educational context at school – which, despite all efforts, is apparently less fruitful than learning a language leisurely by watching TV programmes with subtitles. Only TV will give you the ability to speak like an actual Brit or American, as opposed to like an odd historical character from a book. Sadly, the only non-dubbed TV programme from an English-speaking country I could watch as a child was Mr Bean – and the mute, grimacing fellow wasn’t of much help to my language success…

A recent study published by the European Commission highlights the positive impact of subtitled TV programmes on language learning. According to the study, participants from countries where dubbing of imported TV programmes or movies is the norm have a significantly lower level of foreign-language proficiency than those from countries where the use of interlingual subtitles is common practice – despite a high standard in foreign language education. Currently, there are 15 out of 27 countries within the EU that use subtitles. Some of them, for example Bulgaria, Iceland and Sweden, broadcast 90% of their TV programmes in English with subtitles in their respective languages – an approach that the European Commission champions.

Do you use subtitles to boost your language learning? Tell us which shows you love to learn to!

Stefanie, German translator and Verboo project manager