IWTYAL 204: Experimenting with subtitles in English movies

Crystal asks: “What do you think about watching English movies with foreign language subtitles”

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Full Transcript:

Good morning everybody, welcome back to the I Will Teach You a Language podcast. Hope you're having a great day. I'm sitting here recording this episode with some really nice tea that my buddy, Jeremy, in Mexico told me about. I'm really enjoying this tea, I'm going to tell you what it is, because it's cool. I tend to have it mid-morning when I'm starting to get a bit hungry. I make this tea, and it knocks the hunger dead and gives me this nice little energy boost as well. What you do is you take cacao nibs, you get a tablespoon of cacao nibs and you chuck it in a teapot. Then you add a bunch of hot water to make the tea, and then you add some cinnamon, some turmeric and a bit of Stevia for the sweetener as well if you'd like. It tastes like hot chocolate. When Jeremy told me that this thing tastes like hot chocolate I didn't believe him, but it does, it's really nice and rich. It's really, really nice, so give it a try. Cacao nibs you might have to go to your local health food store to get, and they're a little bit expensive. If you want to try something new this week, I really recommend that.

Anyway, this is a language learning podcast despite what I've just said. Today we've got a very interesting question about experimenting with movies and mixing up the languages and the subtitles and all the stuff like that. Before we get into that, I'd like to thank the sponsors of the show. They've been with us for a good couple of years now, since very near the beginning of the show. They help keep the show on the road, they are the wonderful Italki. I get all of my language lessons from Italki. You can find native speaking teachers from all over the world, and you can get a free lesson by going to IWillTeachYouALanguage.com/freelesson.

With today's question, here's Crystal. Crystal, I have to apologize, I did have to cut a bit of your question, because it was really long. Hopefully, I haven't cut out too much.

Hi, Olly. My name is Crystal. I want to thank you for all the great information. It's kind of weird for me to just kind of speak in the air, so I will try. When I come to learning a new language, I live in a foreign country and I've been here for almost two years. I thought I'd be completely fluent, but I find enough people ex-pats and such that speak English as their native language, where I only speak enough Spanish to get by, then I got really lazy about it. I love your articles, a lot of them sort of reaffirm for me some of the things I do is correct, and some of the things isn't correct what I'm doing. I'm the type of person where my reading is alright and my speaking is okay. It's really hard to get into sort of a rhythm, and I'm the type of person where all of the words run together, and I can't single out a single word of what anyone's saying. I'm responding to your article about watching movies in another language. Audibly, this does not work very well for me, I can't decipher anything. If we put it in Spanish and put English subtitles, I just read the subtitles. However, doing the Netflix thing, Netflix always has the Spanish subtitles. It's great, because I've picked up a lot of vocabulary coming through there, and that's helped me. I don't really know exactly my question, but what do you think about watching TV in English with language in question subtitles?

Hey, Crystal, thank you very much for your question. You got there in the end, there was a question in the end. I appreciate your question, and it's okay that you took some time to express your thoughts, because what I can hear in your voice is you're thinking about the issue. You're trying to put your finger on what it is that you're struggling with. I really identify with that, because that's all part of the language learning process. I did quite enjoy listening to your question, even though I unfortunately had to cut out a little bit of it. I'm not quite sure exactly how helpful I can be here, but I will try to tease out some of the things that I think you're getting at, because I think there are some valuable lessons here, and I think maybe just through kind of talking about this and batting it back and forth listeners might find some value in it.

There's a couple of things that I want to highlight. First of all is that you said you've been getting a lot of value from watching English movies with Spanish subtitles. Any time you can identify something you're doing as valuable, I'd say keep doing it. It doesn't matter what I say about watching movies or what anybody else says. If you find that you are learning and growing your vocabulary by doing that, then keep doing it. Don't let anybody tell you not to do it. I remember once I was in Brazil, and I was staying with my friend, Deborah, in Rio. I got really sick, I'd just come back from Baiera and I picked up some horrible virus, and I was really sick for about four or five days. All I could do is really sit in her brother's room and watch movies. I remember watching these Woody Allen movies that he had in English with Portuguese subtitles. I remember also really enjoying that. I remember thinking, “This is interesting, because I understand everything that's going on because it's in English, yet because the subtitles are in Portuguese I'm picking up these words that I never would otherwise”. I remember that being useful, so keep that up for sure. Anytime you find something that's working, keep doing it, double down. I usually find that if there's something that's working and you keep doing it, it will run its course eventually. It will have a lifespan where you start to think to yourself one day, “This is not as useful as it used to be”.

The other thing that I picked up from what you were saying is that you're fine reading, you're fine speaking, but you have trouble listening and you have trouble picking out individual words, which we've been talking about a lot recently on the podcast. This thing of how do you improve your listening comprehension when everyone around you is speaking so quickly? I won't repeat what I always say about this other than to make the point that the best thing you can do, Crystal, in this situation to improve your listening is finding stuff that you can listen to and read along with the transcript. Then any situation where you don't understand, you've got the help there you need to refer to the words that are actually being spoken.

On that basis, if you're kind of struggling with spoken Spanish, you're struggling to understand what's being said, then my reaction is that it doesn't seem to make sense for you to be listening to movies in English, because then what are you doing to improve your Spanish listening comprehension? I think I would much rather, if you can do this on Netflix, watch the movies in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. Then if you don't understand stuff, you can at least associate it with the words that are coming up on the screen. Obviously this is harder, it's more work. You can't just sit back and relax, because you've got to pay attention to the Spanish. This is part of the problem with movies, I think. People watch movies, because they want to chill out. Really to get the most out of them, you've really got to focus. Something I've done before is I'll watch a movie, but I'll do it at my desk with a piece of paper. I'm sitting up straight, so I'm paying attention and I can make notes and I can pause. You've got to be active, it's not enough to kind of sit back and hope that it soaks in. It will over many years, but we're talking a lot of years there.

That's what I've got for you, that's all really. I'm not sure there's much more to say other than the two points there. Do more of what is working, but also do try to focus on your weaknesses. If you've identified listening as a weakness, then do things that are likely to help address that specific weakness. If you want to keep watching movies, put them in Spanish with subtitles. Otherwise, I would be looking at going and finding material that is good for listening, it comes with full transcripts. I run a Spanish website called Fluent Spanish Academy, and there one of the main things that we do is create materials that help you with your listening comprehension because it's such a big problem. We've got for example recorded conversations between native speakers that come fully transcribed. We've got these collections of short stories that have the audio and come fully transcribed so you can listen and read. Everything we do kind of has this component of audio and text, so that when you do that over time it just helps to build up your listening comprehension.

I hope that's helpful, Crystal. Thanks for the question, and best of luck with your Spanish. If you'd like to ask me a question you can. There's quite a queue at the moment, but if you get in now hopefully in a month or two I might be able to get through to your question. The place to do that is IWillTeachYouALanguage.com/ask. Now, at the end of every episode I like to leave you with a resource of some kind. Crystal referenced an article that I wrote some time ago that was one of the most successful articles on the blog. It's also quite controversial, because everybody likes watching movies in foreign languages, they don't always like to hear that it might be not such a good use of time as they thought. If you'd like to explore this article and follow along with my thoughts and my reasonings and my arguments then you can. I'll put a link to this in the show notes, which will be at IWillTeachYouALanguage.com/episode204. Thank you for listening, I'll see you back in the next episode.

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