Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

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L-1809
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Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

Postby L-1809 » Tue Jul 19, 2016 3:38 pm

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, especially when it comes to Spanish.

I tend to gravitate towards TV shows that have subtitles included, therefore I 'read' along with whatever the speaker is saying. I find I can understand a good 85% of what's being said when I'm reading alongside listening. I've noticed however that if I switch subtitles off I find it more difficult to understand what's being said.

I'm finding it difficult to put what I want to ask into words, but is it detrimental to keep the subtitles on? Or should I just go for it & take them off, and get used to listening to the language without having the added help of the subs? I am guessing my listening comprehension will become better once I do this?

Any advice, thoughts or tips welcome. Thank you. :)
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Re: Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

Postby DangerDave2010 » Tue Jul 19, 2016 3:48 pm

In my experience, subtitles are extremely detrimental.

There may be some good uses for it, but if I'm just mindlessly watching, which is usually the case, I shun them as hell.
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L-1809
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Re: Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

Postby L-1809 » Tue Jul 19, 2016 4:04 pm

I agree, over the past few weeks I have been thinking a lot that subtitles are hindering my progression, especially as I concentrate more on the written words than the way they're being spoken.

I guess the subtitles have almost become like a 'comfort blanket' haha. I think I'm going to drop them and see how I get on.
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Re: Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

Postby Wurstmann » Tue Jul 19, 2016 4:23 pm

I don't agree. When watching Chinese TV with Chinese subtitles they help a lot to understand all the differnt accents and dialects people use.
I think they also help me to connect the sounds of the spoken language to the (written) words I learned before.
When starting out I also watched English shows with English subtitles and now I don't need them. But I probably would have given up otherwise, because it would have been to difficult without them.

L1 subs on the other hand, are the devil.
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Re: Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

Postby NoManches » Tue Jul 19, 2016 4:47 pm

Agreed that L1 subtitles are the devil. For me, L2 subtitles help at first but after awhile I become dependent on them and do more reading than listening.

I just finished episode 60 of el Señor de los Cielos and have watched all without subtitles, only turning then on to really figure out an important scene, or to give myself some intensive practice.

My listening has improved a TON but still isn't where I want it to be. I'm hoping that by episode 120 I'll see even greater improvements.

One thing that I'd recommend that ( was suggested to me) is that you read a lot. If you can't understand the subtitles of your show, do you really think you would understand the show WITHOUT the subtitles. The answer is: probably not.
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Re: Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

Postby L-1809 » Tue Jul 19, 2016 5:09 pm

NoManches wrote:Agreed that L1 subtitles are the devil. For me, L2 subtitles help at first but after awhile I become dependent on them and do more reading than listening.

I just finished episode 60 of el Señor de los Cielos and have watched all without subtitles, only turning then on to really figure out an important scene, or to give myself some intensive practice.

My listening has improved a TON but still isn't where I want it to be. I'm hoping that by episode 120 I'll see even greater improvements.

One thing that I'd recommend that ( was suggested to me) is that you read a lot. If you can't understand the subtitles of your show, do you really think you would understand the show WITHOUT the subtitles. The answer is: probably not.


I agree, I think I've become more dependent on the subtitles than the actual spoken word. As a note I never use English subs, only Spanish.

Thanks for the reading tip. I generally do read a lot in all the languages I'm learning, especially Spanish as I can find materials in the language much easier.
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Re: Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

Postby AwolsESL » Tue Jul 19, 2016 8:56 pm

L1 subtitles are unlikely to be helpful at all. I'd guess you might pick up a few repeated, isolated words at best with L1 subtitles, and that they would even be easy to infer in any event.
L2 subtitles I think can be useful, but not always.
On the one hand subtitles are useful if you can read them quick enough that it doesn't distract from your listening. They can make it easier to identify individual words and where there is connected speech.
On the other hand subtitles provide a second challenge by bringing reading into the equation. If you are a stronger reader, you may rely on this only. Your listening skills are thus untested.
I think that both have their place but you need to consider the level of content.
If you can't understand much without the subtitles, watch something easier.
If you can understand 75% or so, and the subtitles lift this to more like 90-95%, then watch it with.
If you can understand 95%, watch it without.
If you can understand 100%, find something more challenging.
The 95% comes from a number of studies (from ELT e.g. by Nation) which suggest this is the threshold to work out new words from context. The 75% is more finger in the air. Also as mentioned it is only any good if you can read fast enough and simultaneously.
Some people prefer not to use subtitles at all, and I respect their preference, but I think it can be a useful step if it boosts your understanding, but I'd advocate watching the same material again without subtitles later.
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Re: Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

Postby Tomás » Tue Jul 19, 2016 10:10 pm

I'm struggling with the same question (also studying Spanish). I use Spanish subtitles for shows that are hard to understand, and turn them off if I can understand enough to follow most of the story.

Some shows you need to get more details so as not to get lost. Subtitles on. Other shows are less subtle (more fights and chase scenes, simpler plots), and you don't lose much if you miss some minor details here and there. Subtitles off.

Terminator 2--subtitles off.
House of Games--subtitles on.
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Re: Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

Postby AlexTG » Tue Jul 19, 2016 11:47 pm

I suggest you try delaying subtitles by 800ms or so. That should stop you reading them all the time, since they'll be out of sync, but you'll still have them there when you don't understand a line and want to check what was said.

If you delay even further, to around 2400ms or so, that will make it really impossible for you to read them all the time, but will also give you lots of time to check on the rare occasion when you really are curious what was said.

You can do this in VLC player by pressing 'h' on your keyboard to increase delay and 'g' to reduce delay.
Last edited by AlexTG on Wed Jul 20, 2016 1:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Watching TV without subtitles VS with (dilemma!)

Postby Ani » Wed Jul 20, 2016 12:56 am

You are talking about L2 subtitles? If you can only understand 85% between reading and listening, I think subtitles can be very helpful and not a detriment at all at that level. I think if you are only understanding 85% with the help of reading, you are probably learning valuable things simultaneously, getting used to how the written phrases sound when spoken and having a better avenue for noticing new vocabulary.

My experience, if it is worth anything, is that I was probably at that point of 85% comprehension with subtitles in January. Plenty of times I didn't even understand what I had read. I watched a bunch of series with subtitles and fairly quickly realized I was near 98% comprehension (meaning I was missing around 2 words every minute or two, on average). I am sure you can overuse subtitles, but my experience was that eventually it was easier just to watch and listen than to read most of the time, then I knew I was ready to turn them off. It felt like a huge step back in comprehension, but I had a much greater vocabulary. In January without the subtitles I had understood close to nothing of adult level shows so it was actually a huge improvement. At this point my comprehension without subtitles has been coming up at about the same rate that it came up WITH subtitles earlier this year.

That being said, subs are still great when you can't make heads or tails of something and can be used for intensive listening.
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