Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The joy of subtitles

I'm enjoying the last couple of days before I'm back at work after the Easter break, and I was very glad that today was a 'film study day' in the city centre which I had enrolled for.  The film we studied was called 'Good night and good luck', and it was a great film, definitely worth watching.  We had two very good teachers during the day, and they provided lots of interesting information between the different sections of the film over the course of the day.

I was very shocked, however, when I found I really couldn't understand the first 15-minutes of the film.  No, it wasn't in German, Spanish or any other language that I supposedly know.  It was in English - but it was American English, and the acoustics in the room were not great.  I thought I was the only person in the group who couldn't hear the dialogue, or who was not really understanding what was going on. Luckily, other people were also having a problem, and for the rest of the day the film was shown with the English subtitles as well as the audio track.  

What a relief!  It made the film so much more enjoyable, not having to struggle to catch every word which was said.  Of course, I did gradually 'tune in' to the American accent, so by the end I probably wasn't reading the subtitles very much, but it really took the pressure off.

As you know, I really, really recommend that language learners find television programmes which they enjoy, and watch them regularly.  As with reading, it's so important to find programmes which you actually like - although you may feel that you should be watching the news, or documentaries about politics or current affairs, if you don't enjoy them, you won't watch them - or won't watch them regularly enough to benefit from them.  If you are learning English in the UK and enjoy programmes which other people consider to be rubbish, like Britain's Got Talent, or Coronation Street, or Hollyoaks, ignore what anyone else thinks and watch them - but remember to turn on the subtitles (in English, of course), to make the whole experience more enjoyable and less stressful.  It also means that you can see how an unfamiliar word is written, and look it up in the dictionary.

If you don't have a television set, try watching English language movies on your laptop with the subtitles in English - or if you really think that is too hard for you, why not use subtitles in your native language for the first half of the film (until you know the characters, and what is going on), then switch to English for the second half?  

Remember, the most useful language learning strategies are the ones which you actually do - NOT the ones you think you SHOULD do, but never feel in the mood for!  Even if you are studying hard for IELTS or another language exam, you can still enjoy at least some parts of the language learning experience.  

I'd be really interested to hear your recommendations for good TV programmes and films for learners of English - please comment below, or email me: juliaenglish@hotmail.co.uk.

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