It’s undeniable that learning English is important for foreign language speakers – it’s the number one international language, commonly used throughout much of the world. Quite simply, learning English opens up global communication channels and employment opportunities.
So in terms of social equality, it’s essential that children all around the world have access to effective English language learning resources. One tool that is proving to be helpful in teaching English is subtitles.
Many EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers already use subtitles in their classrooms to great effect. Showing English language programmes or films to students, along with accompanying English subtitles, can enhance learning in lots of ways:
- it helps make the lessons more fun – for example, after watching a subtitled film students could be asked to act out a scene
- it helps capture the students’ attention – particularly if the subject matter of the film or programme taps into their interests
- it helps reinforce new vocabulary – through watching and listening at the same time.
Some critics argue that using videos or DVDs in lessons is a lazy way of teaching – and some have claimed that reading and listening are two different brain functions that can actually cancel each other out.
Another concern is that subtitles are a condensed form of English, and the translation is not always straight because subtitling companies have to comply with industry standards such as character limits, line limits and the length of time that the words are on screen.
However, research has consistently shown that the use of subtitles can be a very effective language teaching method. A 2011 European Commission study on the use of subtitling found that it “presents strong potential in educational contexts” and recommended the increased use of subtitles in teaching.
It isn’t just in formal teaching environments, though, that the potential of subtitles is being recognised. A Filipino lawmaker recently made the news with his proposal to add English subtitles to local TV shows and films to help the mass viewing audience learn the language.
Gerald Anthony Gullas Jr, House Assistant Majority Leader and Cebu Representative, hopes his plans will help offset the fact that many Filipino families are unable to send their children to school for formal learning.
Gullas wants to utilise subtitling services to improve children’s employment prospects – and the country’s economy. In a statement, he said: “Subtitling will contribute to our learning and use of English, considering the mass appeal of Filipino movies and TV programs.”
If this initiative proves successful in The Philippines, other countries may well follow suit. Could subtitled TV be the new English class?