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Want to Enhance Your Listening Comprehension? Turn on Your TV Captions

Watching foreign language programming can feel like swimming against the current. The unfamiliar words keep coming and coming, and just when you feel like you’re beginning to get the hang of it, a particularly speedy bout of dialogue sends your head spinning again.

If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of moderate to utter confusion while watching foreign-language TV, then you might need something more. Don’t give up on your foreign-language programming. Instead, cut yourself a break – turn on those captions, and clear up your confusion.

English Subtitles Versus Same-Language Captions

For a study published in the Foreign Language Annals, intermediate-level Spanish learners were asked to break up into groups: an English caption group, a Spanish caption group, and a no-caption group. Each group viewed a video in Spanish, and afterwards, students in all three groups were asked to compose a written summary of the video and complete a multiple-choice assessment.

Scores on these assessments revealed that while the use of English subtitles had the most powerful effect on comprehension, both English and Spanish caption groups performed at a significantly higher level than the no-caption group.

The danger that viewers can sometimes fall into when using captions in their own language, however, is tuning out the target language all-together. Students in the English subtitle group may have improved the most not due to enhanced Spanish language comprehension, but because they were able to default back to their own language. That’s why we recommend opting first for same-language captions. If you’re still lost, go ahead and turn on those English captions, but be sure to stay actively engaged with the dialogue in your target language, and only refer to the subtitles where needed.

Why Captions Help

Another study – published in Language Learning and Technology – analyzed the video caption experiences of Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish learners. In a series of interviews, learners provided insights about how they felt that captions helped them. The reports showed that captions:

  • Reinforced their prior knowledge about the language
  • Aided their processing of their target language
  • Helped with their language analysis
  • Improved their ability to pay attention to the foreign-language videos

The benefits of captions are surely wide-ranging. In addition to the factors listed above, seeing a word and hearing it pronounced at the same time is likely to improve learners’ pronunciation, while reading and processing rapid-fire subtitles can help learners become better readers in their target language.

Make Captions a Part of Your Routine

The beauty of watching foreign-language programming is that you can immerse yourself in both your target language and the culture of its speakers, all from the comfort of your own home. Learning a new language is always a journey, and staying on track with those daily doses of foreign-language media can get tiresome. So, cut yourself a break every now and again – turn on the captions!

ALTA Language Services helps make language-learning easy and fun. Our customized language training programs are built to set you up for success. Contact us for more information on how we can help.

About the author:
Danielle Martin has taught multiple subjects to students in three different states. She previously spent time as a literary agent’s assistant and video editor. Danielle writes about education, health, and lifestyle topics, and she also enjoys writing fiction.

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