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Impact of subtitles on language learning: Scientists' conclusion

Impact of subtitles on language learning: Scientists' conclusion Illustrative photo (Photo:
Author: Daria Shekina

Many people try to watch movies or educational videos in the original language with subtitles. However, there have been debates about whether subtitles distract during movie viewing and how they actually impact the learning of other languages.

The answer to this question provided by scientists is discussed by RBC-Ukraine, based on a study published in System journal.

American researchers from the University of Maryland in College Park and Saint Luke's School experimented and found that subtitles in a foreign language help to understand the language by listening, contrary to common belief.

In foreign language classes at school and during preparation for standardized tests like IELTS and TOEFL, developing listening comprehension through audio recordings and videos without subtitles is common practice. Many educators believe that text is an additional source of information that distracts from focusing on spoken language and hinders comprehension. However, linguists argue otherwise.

In the study, 287 students from Türkiye and China watched an English-language TED Talks lecture and answered questions about its content. The students' language proficiency was moderate.

The students were divided into three groups: some watched a slowed-down video, others watched an accelerated one, and the rest watched the original speed. All participants had access to the video with and without subtitles.

After watching the video, the participants moved on to the next stage of the experiment, where they answered multiple-choice questions. Eight questions were related to the video's content, while three were related to the playback speed. The questionnaire had to be completed within 7 minutes.

According to the students, subtitles helped them better understand the video, which was evident in their answers to content-related questions. The effect was positive for all participants regardless of their language proficiency and the video's speed. However, those who watched the slowed-down lecture benefited the most.

The researchers suggested that video speed could be a valuable tool in foreign language classes and could be used for various purposes. Moreover, it's not advisable to dismiss subtitles, as they improve results even for students with initially high language proficiency.

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