Why are movies and TV shows so difficult to understand?

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Valddu
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Why are movies and TV shows so difficult to understand?

Postby Valddu » Tue Jan 29, 2019 3:31 am

One thing I’ve noticed about my progress in my L2 is how much more difficult it is for me to understand shows and movies without subtitles. With YouTube and my iTalki tutors I’m pretty confident about my ability to understand and can often listen for long stretches without needing to review what was said or ask a clarifying question. There just seems to be something about people speaking in a natural way and directly into the camera that my brain and ear can process—but whenever I switch over to a movie or tv show I find myself having to repeat sections over and over to comprehend what was being said.

Do most language learners struggle with native shows and movies in this way? Part of me wonders if the problem is just one of exposure—I’ve participated in hundreds of hours worth of conversation in but have only seen a handful of shows in my L2. Maybe it’s as simple as needing more exposure?
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Re: Why are movies and TV shows so difficult to understand?

Postby reineke » Tue Jan 29, 2019 3:46 am

CEFR descriptors (Films and TV)

B1 With regards to broadcast media, B1 "can follow many films in which visuals and action carry much of the storyline, and which are delivered clearly in straightforward language.
Can catch the main points in TV programmes on familiar topics when the delivery is relatively slow and clear. Can understand a large part of many TV programmes on topics of personal interest such as interviews, short lectures, and news reports when the delivery is relatively slow and clear."

B2 "Can understand most TV news and current affairs programmes. Can understand documentaries, live interviews, talk shows, plays and the majority of films in standard dialect."

C1 can "follow films employing a considerable degree of slang and idiomatic usage". C1 can also "understand a wide range of recorded and broadcast audio material, including some non-standard usage, and identify finer points of detail including implicit attitudes and relationships between speakers" .

C2. "Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.

Translated, dubbed fiction is generally easier to process than native shows. During translation a level of complexity is simply lost. Native fiction will likely feel more colloquial, slangy and slurred. Some simple sentences may be harder to catch due to ambient noise. L2 learners struggle to process speech in noisy environments. In dubbed TV shows much of the ambient noise is lost* and cartoon dubs sound extra clean in this respect.

*Guide to Postproduction for TV and Film: Managing the Process
By Barbara Clark, Susan Spohr
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Re: Why are movies and TV shows so difficult to understand?

Postby NoManches » Tue Jan 29, 2019 5:54 am

Some relevant threads (as you can see, this is/was a topic that I have a lot of interest in :oops: ).

https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... Television


https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... ion#p70766


https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... ish#p17301

https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... +tv#p29341


https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... es#p102401

A few years later and I still don't have 100% comprehension when it comes to movies/TV shows. I have pretty good comprehension with TV shows, especially after the first 3-4 episodes. When I understand most movies with good comprehension I'll move on to another language...but until then I'm committed to Spanish.


When talking to somebody, the other person will naturally use the right vocabulary, idioms, and speed so that you can understand. Also, it's a lot easier to comprehend when you know what the topic is about and have control over where the conversation is heading.


I'd recommend podcasts to help with understanding TV shows and movies. Podcasts can be a lot harder, especially since they don't have the visual aspect which makes you think you understand more than you really do.
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Postby Morgana » Tue Jan 29, 2019 6:08 am

Last edited by Morgana on Mon Nov 25, 2019 5:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why are movies and TV shows so difficult to understand?

Postby Dragon27 » Tue Jan 29, 2019 6:25 am

Valddu wrote:Do most language learners struggle with native shows and movies in this way? Part of me wonders if the problem is just one of exposure—I’ve participated in hundreds of hours worth of conversation in but have only seen a handful of shows in my L2. Maybe it’s as simple as needing more exposure?

Well, it seems like movies and TV shows (not all of them) are a whole new level. So expecting to understand them easily is like expecting to understand native material after listening to lots of learner's material. It will never work and you will eventually just have to bite the bullet and get into more difficult stuff (like TV shows), accepting that it's gonna be a struggle no matter how prepared you are (although better preparation may alleviate some of it, of course).
After 500-1000-2000 hours of listening without the subtitles it should get easier. Listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and read some books as well (when you're more confident with your pronunciation), and pick up new words and expressions (they'll help you with deciphering the difficult speech). The difficulty of the Youtube videos can also vary a lot, listen to differen kinds of stuff and see what comes easier/harder for you.
Don't expect to learn to understand 100%, even after years of exposure. I can watch movies and TV shows in English more or less fine now, but some of them are more difficult than others. Trying to comprehend Wind River, for example, was a pain at times (them actors mumbling...).
Last edited by Dragon27 on Tue Jan 29, 2019 6:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why are movies and TV shows so difficult to understand?

Postby Adrianslont » Tue Jan 29, 2019 6:27 am

I will add a few points to the above:

Rapid casual speech is generally hard whether in video or in real life.

And there is a thing where sitcom actors speak really quickly to make their characters seem smarter or edgier.

Some film actors mumble. I’m thinking of Marlon Brando and Heath Ledger in the English speaking world. And all of those actors who have followed closely in their footsteps.

Some movies are just badly recorded. I don’t know why. Sometimes I suspect it’s a lack of technical skill - other times I suspect it’s the sound engineer going for a kind of natural effect.
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Re: Why are movies and TV shows so difficult to understand?

Postby Ani » Tue Jan 29, 2019 7:55 am

Well, I'll going to go against a little bit of what was said here and say that modern dubbed films or series (at key for the first few episodes). I really they can be the most difficult input you can find.

Older dubs, like Buffy, Charmed, 90's romcoms, seem to have dubbing that's slower and cleaner than the native content. The stuff that Netflix is putting out now? The audio is intentionally muddled, remerged with background noises, and on top of that, the words don't match the actors' faces. (Or specifically, they conflict, which does strange things in the brain)

The OPs question isn't about dubs vs. native content but I just had to get that off my chest ;)

OP, I would recommend 200 hours of a native series and then come back and update us on your progress :)
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Re: Why are movies and TV shows so difficult to understand?

Postby Serpent » Tue Jan 29, 2019 6:23 pm

Ani wrote:on top of that, the words don't match the actors' faces. (Or specifically, they conflict, which does strange things in the brain)
getting used to that is a skill, just like using subtitles without reading more than you need :D
As a native speaker of Russian I grew up with no expectation that people's mouths match what they say in movies :D
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Re: Why are movies and TV shows so difficult to understand?

Postby aaleks » Tue Jan 29, 2019 8:05 pm

Serpent wrote:
Ani wrote:on top of that, the words don't match the actors' faces. (Or specifically, they conflict, which does strange things in the brain)
getting used to that is a skill, just like using subtitles without reading more than you need :D
As a native speaker of Russian I grew up with no expectation that people's mouths match what they say in movies :D

And there was such a thing as the dubbing of the 1990's :lol: .
Last edited by aaleks on Tue Jan 29, 2019 8:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why are movies and TV shows so difficult to understand?

Postby Chupito » Tue Jan 29, 2019 8:11 pm

Valddu wrote:Do most language learners struggle with native shows and movies in this way? Part of me wonders if the problem is just one of exposure—I’ve participated in hundreds of hours worth of conversation in but have only seen a handful of shows in my L2. Maybe it’s as simple as needing more exposure?


Yeah, it's common and that it will improve with exposure.

reineke wrote:cartoon dubs sound extra clean in this respect.


I agree with that. I think that cartoons are a good place to start for OP, if they can find one that interest them enough. Not only is the audio often clearer, the visuals are usually even more helpful than a live movie or TV show (for instance, a lot of facial or body expressions are over-exaggerated in a way that would seem ridiculous or, well, cartoonish from actual actors) and usually, the dialogs are more straightforward or it is made clear to the viewer when they are not (for instance, when a character is being manipulative or sarcastic). Likely in part because the audience is assumed to be younger and less able to pick-up subtleties. It also gets rid of the dub issue of having to imperfectly match the dialog with the movement of the lips of the actors; in that sense, even an original cartoon is a dub.

I also find TV shows easier than movies because you have more time to get used to the specific way in each the characters speak and the topics they talk about. There is also more built-in repetition. It's similar to narrow reading.

Ani wrote:The audio is intentionally muddled, remerged with background noises


Plus a lot of recent film and movie makers seem to love blasting the music or background noise more loudly than the voice. Sometimes I have trouble understanding what the actors are saying in my native language or I have to keep readjusting the sound level.
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