Should language learners watch films and videos with their mother tongue subtitles, English subtitles or no subtitles?
Let’s start with science
Spanish linguists did a research in 2019 in which a few groups of students were told to watch one hour of English videos a day
- group 1 with English subtitles
- group 2 with Spanish subtitles (mother language)
- group 3 with no subtitles
Then their listening, vocabulary and comprehension were tested.
- Group 1, they watched with English subtitles, had a significant improvement – 17 percent of listening comprehension score and vocabulary learning
- Group 2, no improvement. They were Spanish native speakers watching in English with Spanish subtitles
- Group 3, they watched without subtitles, 7 percent improvement
They results are surprising as most of us believe that watching without subtitles should give the best results. Nevetheless, the science proves us wrong. Watching English films with English subtitles is the most effective way of learning.
However, in real life conversations you don’t have subtitles, so ability to understand without subtitles is also crucial.
Switch on your mother tongue subtitles ONLY if the video is definitely too difficult for you but you want to watch it. Then, anyway watch it again with English subtitles and one more time without subtitles. Taking into consideration the fact that people remember only 20-30 percent of what they watch once, three attempts are definitely to good technique to learn from videos.
If you understand 50 or more percent of what you watch, don’t switch on your mother tongue subtitles. Watch with English ones and at least once without subtitles.
Human brain is generally lazy, so it will have a natural tendency to:
- read the native language instead of focusing on the foreign ones
- read the English subtitles more than listening, as reading is easier