Do you remember the first time you watched a movie with subtitles on?
You were probably a bit confused about how to read the subtitles and still pay attention to what was happening in the movie!
They may also transcribe (repeat in written form) the dialogue in the same language that is spoken in a video.
There are subtitles and closed captions: They are a bit different from one another. Closed captions not only transcribe the dialogue, but they also describe the sounds and music that go along with the action in films. Closed captions are very useful for people who are hard-of-hearing or deaf.
Both subtitles and closed captions make great English learning tools.
Whether you use them to translate the dialogue into your native language or choose English ones to understand better, it’s a great idea to add subtitles into your study routine!
Why Should English Students Use Subtitles?
Subtitles offer a unique way to improve your English listening skills. When you watch a movie or a show with English subtitles on, your brain is forming a connection between what you hear and what you read. Subtitles are text, and you must read them fast to be able to understand what is going on in the movie. So your brain learns to associate the sounds with written words faster.
Not only that, but subtitles can also be a great vocabulary learning tool. When you want to master a certain topic of English vocabulary (for example, business English, hospitality English or English for air travel), you can learn new words by watching an English documentary that has subtitles on.
There is so much variety in programming with subtitles, your choices are practically unlimited. There are movies with subtitles, TV shows with subtitles, news programs with closed captions and even educational apps that teach you English with subtitled videos!
Where to Find Subtitled English Videos
English-language films, TV shows and documentaries are the best sources for studying with the help of subtitles. There are lots of resources to legally watch free movies online. Unfortunately, very few of them offer subtitled content or a way to search for content that does have subtitles. Below are two great resources that do offer such options.
PBS is an amazing American broadcasting company that produces extremely interesting documentary films and TV series. You can browse their collection by clicking on the Shows and Video tabs. Look for a CC sign below the video window—it means that the program has closed captions!
BBC America has many new and popular TV shows released by BBC worldwide. As with other highly respected broadcasters, it offers closed captioning on all of its content. All you need to do is click on the CC button under each video. You do not need to log in to watch the programs, and they are free!
If you would rather watch shorter videos with subtitles, below are your best bets.
YouTube is an easy answer to your study needs. The variety of content on YouTube is impressive: you can find videos on any topic, be it comedy, movie trailers, tutorials or vlogs (video blogs).
A lot of the most popular content will come with closed captions. All you need to do is to click the CC button below the video to activate them. Unfortunately, not all videos have them, because the video creators have to enable that option when they upload content to their channels. The good news is that more and more YouTube channels come with CC!
If you want to be 100% sure that any video you choose to watch has subtitles, FluentU is for you. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Their video library is enormous (very, very big), and contains authentic videos. This means you get to watch the same kinds of videos that native speakers do. Also, unlike the services above, FluentU actively teaches you English. Each video from the collection has subtitles, explanations, quizzes and vocabulary notes. Give it a try on the website, with the app for iOS or with the app for Android!
Vimeo is another great resource for videos, clips and even short-length action films. However, like YouTube, while a lot of its content has subtitles or closed captions, many videos do not.
There is no option to sort videos by subtitle availability. If the video you want to watch has them, you will see the CC icon under it—click it, and you can start your study session!
If you want to stay away from the internet while studying, check out your TV channels. Major American English-language channels like CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox offer closed captioning of their content, including news and TV shows they broadcast.
Activating the closed captioning on your TV may be a bit tricky, because it depends on what kind of TV you own. In most cases, you will be able to do it on your remote control by going to video or channel settings or options.
How to Learn English with Subtitles
Now that you know the many advantages of subtitles and where to find subtitled content, you can start using subtitles in your study sessions!
Here are some practical ideas on how to do it.
If you are a beginner English learner, start with shorter videos that you can easily pause and re-watch. Closed captioning will be the most useful to you as a beginner. You will be reading not only dialogues, but also learning adjectives used to describe sounds and moods. Remember that reading the subtitles and listening to the speech all at once isn’t easy, so be patient with yourself!
As an intermediate English learner, you have a lot of choices. For example, find a longer program that you can watch in an hour or two. It could be a film, a documentary or a TV show in English, with English subtitles or closed captions. Subtitles will help you to understand what is going on in the story, while you get used to hearing English speech and dialogues of various lengths.
This exercise, while entertaining, is all about immersion! It will improve your listening skills fast. Hearing English spoken and using subtitles as an aid (help) will allow you to become comfortable with an uninterrupted stream of English.
If you are an upper intermediate English learner, subtitles will help you practice listening skills for a specific topic (for example, medicine, politics, finance). Start with picking a program that corresponds to a topic. It could be a documentary, an information program or a news segment… If you already have a vocabulary list for the topic, keep it nearby. Once you start watching the video, pay close attention to subtitles to catch the words from your vocabulary list and to hear how they are used in narration or dialogue. Rewind or restart the video as necessary.
If you are an advanced English learner, you can focus on vocabulary building with the help of subtitles. For example, if there is a topic you do not know well yet, you probably have trouble understanding articles, books or other materials on that topic.
Find a subtitled video on the same subject—it can be a long film or a short video—and watch it, focusing on listening and identifying unknown words. When you come across one, write it down to practice later. Step by step, with the help of the video, you will create a vocabulary list that you can study at any time. You will also become much more comfortable with the topic you are studying in general.
These are just some ideas on how to make subtitles a part of your English learning process. There is a lot of content available to you, both online and offline. With some searching, you will be able to find videos that will help you progress faster than you ever imagined.
Being able to pay attention to subtitles is a very useful skill in general, and it will help in your English studies a lot.
Happy watching while you read!
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