Should I Use Subtitles on Movies to Learn English Listening Skills?

Imagine that you’re watching a TV show to learn a language, most language-learners ask themselves “Should I use subtitles on movies to learn English listening skills?”

When learning a new language such as English, most learners will ask themselves whether or not to use English subtitles whenever they’re watching their favourite movie or TV show, or when they’re listening to their favourite song. When you’re learning a new language such as English, it’s important to expose yourself as much as you can to this language, and this can be done in a variety of ways: watching television in English, listening to English music — there are just so many ways. Watching movies or shows using English subtitles is just another method that you can use, but it’s also a very effective method for a variety of reasons. So, what ways can this help you? Should you use subtitles on movies to learn English listening skills? Let’s talk about the advantages (and disadvantages) of using English subtitles! Also, be sure to watch the videos below to follow along!

Advantages of using Subtitles

  • Some English-learners may or may not have noticed, but English is not a phonetic language. What this means is that there are plenty of words in the English language that are said differently than how they’re written (e.g. Wednesday and island).
  • You’ll be able to watch your favourite shows and movies in English, which will make the experience even more enjoyable! You can also listen to music with English subtitles!
  • Using English subtitles will activate your listening and speaking parts of the brain. Developing two skills at the same time, instead of one, will make words “stick” to your brain (it makes words easier to remember).
  • You’ll be able to see how several English words or phrases are used in several different situations. For example:
    1. You need to pull the door open!
    2. This is the police! Pull the car over
  • You’ll be able to pause the movie/show and use a dictionary to study any words you see that you’re not familiar with.

Disadvantages of using Subtitles

  • It’s recommended for intermediate-level students to use English subtitles. Students who are at an advanced level of English aren’t going to get the same level of learning, and can probably understand most of the movie/show without using subtitles.
  • Students who have a beginner-level of English may feel overwhelmed and not be able to understand most of the spoken and written words in the film/show, even with subtitles.
  • Subtitles on TV shows/films will not help you if you don’t enjoy what you’re watching! Always watch something you like or you think is interesting.
  • Slang that is presented in the English language might not be correctly translated into your native language.

Suggestions for using Subtitles

So after talking about how effective subtitles can be, you’re probably wondering “This is really cool, Gabby! So, how do I start learning English using subtitles? Do I need to use them? Do you have any suggestions?”

Before you start using English subtitles for your favourite shows or movies, try to watch them without subtitles first! It’s a great idea for you to understand how much of the TV show/movie you are capable of understanding without subtitles. If you’re able to understand more than half of the program (at least 70% or more), then you probably will not even need subtitles.

If you’re only able to understand less than half (60% or below), then it would be a great idea to use subtitles to help the learning process. You’ll need more input in your native language, and that’s perfectly fine!

One thing to keep in mind is that people learn in different ways, using different material. Experiment with subtitles and see if it works for you!

For more videos: Go Natural English YT

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Picture of Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

About the Author
Gabby Wallace is the Founder of Go Natural English, where you can quickly improve your confidence speaking English through advanced fluency practice. Even if you don't have much time, this is the best place for improving your English skills. Millions of global intermediate - advanced English students are learning with Gabby's inspiring, clear, and energetic English lessons. Gabby has a Masters Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Boston University and 20+ years experience helping students become fluent through her online courses and membership program.

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