Practicing English with Captioned Videos

Travis   Tue May 27, 2008 8:37 pm GMT
Hi All,

I'm writing primarily to ask whether the esteemed members of this forum ever use captioned (or subtitled) videos as a tool for improving their English. If yes, please reply with any details you'd care to share regarding what type of videos, how frequently, how you select for appropriate difficulty level, etc. Sharing information about any relevant web resources you are aware of would also be most helpful.

In any case, this approach has worked for many people I know with "traditional" media such as DVDs and broadcast television and I have personally used it - albeit with a very limited selection of content - for studying Japanese.

Inspired by the possibilities for dramatically enhancing language acquisition through video with modern web video and Web 2.0 style "mashups" of various tools and technologies, I've worked with a small team of people to pull together a prototype website ( to which I would appreciate feedback from this group. This is not a commercial message (the site is entirely free to use), but a sincere appeal for feedback from the group of active English language learners, teachers and thinkers who frequent this forum.

Thanks in advance and best regards,

Johnny   Tue May 27, 2008 9:06 pm GMT
I don't think watching videos with subtitles is a good way to improve at all, but of course it's just my personal opinion. Learners might use them to check a word or two they didn't understand, but if they don't understand whole sentences, there is a substantial problem with their English (unless unusual dialects are involved).

In my opinion, it's better to just watch the video and enjoy it even if you don't understand 30% of what it's said than understanding everything just because you keep reading and concentrating on the subtitles.
I didn't check out your website yet, but I am going to take a look at it later.
Guest   Tue May 27, 2008 9:09 pm GMT
I think that subtitles in the same language as the language being spoken can be helpful, but only if they exactly match the spoken dialogue. Anything else is no good.
Johnny   Tue May 27, 2008 9:36 pm GMT
I was talking about subtitles in English... subtitles another language are completely meaningless. Anyway, I just checked out your website, and I have to say you had a very good idea! Damn, if you work on it and add features, you might get a terrific site out of that. When I said subtitles are not good, I was thinking of movies on DVD, where the subtitles are not complete, shorter, sometimes wrong or misleading, and DISTRACTING. I took a quick look, but it seems your website features complete subtitles, and they are not distracting!
So, I find your website a good way to improve English for intermediate or advanced learners, to learn new expressions in a good and real context. For beginners, it would be too difficult, I think.
Laura Braun   Tue May 27, 2008 9:55 pm GMT
I've got my favorite movie 'Beautiful mind' and I watch it so many times. Once I had to travel with the airplane 10 hours and guess they show Beautiful mins again. There was no subtitles at all so I even didn't put headphones . I was just watching the movie and trying to guess for what they were talking about just moving with their lips. I was watching that movie then more than once. It was like my favorite game. I don't know why I love Enchated. You can say that's some Disney's production, but I'm really Enchanted to that movie. So I was wathiching it several times with subtitles. Now I don't need subtitles at all. Movies with Indiana Jones are fresh and interesting. I've been watching them for several times. So it all depends on the movie which you prefer. It's a matter of taste.
Skippy   Wed May 28, 2008 3:01 am GMT
I think this method of language learning would only allow you to see where you are in terms of learning the language, rather than actually helping you learn it.
guest2   Wed May 28, 2008 3:43 am GMT
Johnny wrote: "...subtitles another language are completely meaningless."

Why? What about watching a movie in your target language, and using subtitles in your own language? Not for advanced learners, but for beginners and intermediates. For example: If I watch an original French film, I only catch part of what's going on. Using English subtitles lets me understand the story--like using "parallel texts" in bilingual books. Maybe you have to watch it a second time, without using the subtitles, to really learn.

Any thoughts?
Guest   Wed May 28, 2008 10:56 am GMT
Good site, well done Travis.
Guest   Wed May 28, 2008 1:42 pm GMT
Subtitles are for lazy people.
Travis   Wed May 28, 2008 3:38 pm GMT
Thanks for the various replies, everyone. A couple of quick responses:

There is nothing wrong, of course, with watching videos in other languages with subtitles in one's native language. People do this all the time so that they can understand and appreciate the content, learn something about another culture and, perhaps, even absorb a few bits and pieces of the language.

I agree with Johnny, though, that watching videos with captions in anything other than the language being spoken is much less effective as an active language learning tool. In other words, if you're studying English, watch English movies with English subtitles. Traditionally, one has had to pause the DVD, flip open the dictionary and search for any words one doesn't understand. With new web based services like Yolango, though, this process is much easier and, we believe, allows MORE language learning to take place.

Finally, I also agree with Johnny's first comment about the importance of watching videos for enjoyment and NOT worrying about understanding every word or phrase. For this reason, we recommend watching Yolango videos (which are usually short; almost all being less than 10 minutes in length) THREE times each. The 1st time should be with captions ON, but NOT stopping and clicking on words. The 2nd time should focus on clicking on challenging words to learn and increase comprehension. The 3rd time should involve no stopping, once again, and might even be done with captions turned OFF.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my query and feel free to enjoy using Yolango as we continue to work to add more features and content to the service.

All the best!
guest2   Wed May 28, 2008 4:34 pm GMT
Two thoughts on subtitles in your own language:

For DVDs sold in the States, the only subtitles I've seen that actually match the dialogue are the English closed captioning for English-language movies. The French and Spanish subtitles for the dubbed French and Spanish tracks rarely match the actual dialogue. And foreign films rarely have subtitles in the original language, only in English.

Secondly, and more to the point: One of the reasons given for the high level of English proficiency among Dutch and Scandinavians is the fact that so many children watch hours and hours of undubbed English language shows (i.e., cartoons) with subtitles in their own language. Maybe Guest is right, that "Subtitles are for lazy people," but if it works, so what?
Guest   Wed May 28, 2008 6:49 pm GMT
Most cartoons in Europe are dubbed (even in countries that don't dub movies, such as Sweden, Holland or Portugal). English cartoons [Cartoon Network] are available on Cable tv be it in Germany, Italy, Spain, or Sweden.
Guest   Wed May 28, 2008 11:53 pm GMT
<<The 1st time should be with captions ON, but NOT stopping and clicking on words. The 2nd time should focus on clicking on challenging words to learn and increase comprehension. The 3rd time should involve no stopping, once again, and might even be done with captions turned OFF.>>

Shouldn't one watch it without captions first, and then turn them on after?
Cassis   Thu May 29, 2008 12:40 am GMT
I consider myself an advanced learner and the thing I have found most helpful about English subtitles is the descriptions that keep popping up when something happens that a deaf person wouldn't be able to perceive. The difference between words like snorting, snarling and growling or squaking, chirping and cawing becomes a lot more vivid than a simple description in a dictionary.
Guest   Thu May 29, 2008 3:10 pm GMT
And squeeking ;)