Watching subtitled films can help learning foreign languages

TitleWatching subtitled films can help learning foreign languages
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsBirulés-Muntané J, Soto-Faraco S
Date Published06/2016
Type of ArticleResearch Article
KeywordsHuman Learning, Language Acquisition, Languages, Perceptual Learning, Phonology, Sensory perception, Speech, Vocabulary

Watching English-spoken films with subtitles is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. One reason for this trend is the assumption that perceptual learning of the sounds of a foreign language, English, will improve perception skills in non-English speakers. Yet, solid proof for this is scarce. In order to test the potential learning effects derived from watching subtitled media, a group of intermediate Spanish students of English as a foreign language watched a 1h-long episode of a TV drama in its original English version, with English, Spanish or no subtitles overlaid. Before and after the viewing, participants took a listening and vocabulary test to evaluate their speech perception and vocabulary acquisition in English, plus a final plot comprehension test. The results of the listening skills tests revealed that after watching the English subtitled version, participants improved these skills significantly more than after watching the Spanish subtitled or no-subtitles versions. The vocabulary test showed no reliable differences between subtitled conditions. Finally, as one could expect, plot comprehension was best under native, Spanish subtitles. These learning effects with just 1 hour exposure might have major implications with longer exposure times.