1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Duolingo
  4. >
  5. "Watching Subtitled Films Can…


"Watching Subtitled Films Can Help Learning Foreign Languages"

Found out about this study, from a video in my YouTube Recommended.


The conclusion of the study found that the participants who watched a foreign film with subtitles in their native language showed no improvement(0%) in their target language; While those who watched the foreign film without any subtitles improved by 7% in their target language; And those who watched the foreign film with subtitles in their target language improved by 17% in their target language!

Anyone know of any similar studies? I think it's really cool that this has been researched!

Here is the video where I learned about the study. It's about the impact of focusing on "Input" when language learning. It's also pretty neat.


August 15, 2019



I'm sure it improves your reading skills in your target language, but does it improve your listening skills? I found watching TV in my target language (Spanish) with Spanish subtitles, I was concentrating too much on trying to read the subtitles as fast as possible and missing much of what the characters were actually saying. So it didn't improve my listening skills.


Once in Germany, I was listening to the evening news, with German subtitles. But what I was hearing didn't match at all what I was reading. "Wow," I thought, "my German is even worse than I thought it was!" Then I realized the spoken content was in Greek!!


That's why I always watch everything twice: once with subtitles and once without.


I think it's also going to improve your listening skills. The problem initially is that you're unable to distinguish the words in what you're hearing, so if you have a visual guide to help you do that, you can pick up the differences in the sounds and what you should be hearing that much faster.


Perhaps try without subtitles, you will surprise yourself how much you understand ;)


You nailed it. Instead of listening you just focus on reading (it doesn't matter that the subtitles are in your target language). I've had been through this with English language... A lot of people are convinced that subtitles help but I find it distracting.


Take the time to yes, read your desired language with subtitles, but also take the time to pause the TV, write down two or three phrases from that show and speak them repeatedly/use them in as many situations as possible. Repeating and using words consistently is most important when learning a new language because it opens a different part of your brain. It's like why a person is able to converse better texting than in person? Because they're able to spend more time to think of an answer as opposed to speaking in person! Happy Learning!


Interesting! I watched the Italian series "Montalbano" with no surtitles, then with Italian surtitles. I was surprised to understand better without them as I could concentrate more.


You know, that makes a lot of sense actually. Reading is a high concentration activity. So naturally, if you're reading something, and it is contrary to what you're hearing, instead of amplifying what you're hearing, it detracts from it. But if you're just listening, your attention to what you're hearing is heightened. And if you're reading something that matches what you're listening to, your brain does all kinds of crazy and cool neurological things to link the connections!


I have tried this before with Spanish subtitles on Netflix and in the movies/tv shows I own on dvd, it works perfectly and has helped me better understand Spanish.


in French class we watched a few films over and over. like you i understand French a bit more than when i started in high school


I've seen that before, but the problem I have right now is I can't understand anything about what's going on and I get really bored. I don't have much free time so if I can't enjoy what I'm watching then I just won't and find something else to do that I can actually enjoy. I feel I need to get to a certain level before I turn the subs off: probably around B1.


What I'm doing with Japanese, now that I've found a streaming service where A LOT of the shows actually have Japanese subtitles, is to watch the show in my native language first, and then watch an episode a day with subtitles in my target language. That's going to be a 20-30min daily time commitment on average. But that means a few supplement hours a week that's contributing to my progress, on top of formal study time. And that "17% improvement" sounds oh so good to me :D

HOWEVER, keep in mind that it is always best to do what is best and most enjoyable for you! I watch a lot of anime because I enjoy the storylines, character personalities, and soundtracks, which are all very meaningful things that impact other parts of my life. And I watch anime because it is the main reason why I want to learn Japanese. So this technique is specifically designed and tailored for my learning style. It may not work for everyone, but there are plenty of other things that will. Just like there are excellent tools that I don't use because they don't fit into my learning style.

I feel that as long as you have a goal, pay attention to the important things, and ultimately enjoy yourself, you should be just fine :)


I can vouch for that. But i've found something even more effective (at least for me) - PC games, RPGs especially. I've switched Witcher 3, which i played at least three times, to French - both voice and subs. And it is perfect; not only I more or less know what they are talking about, because i just plain remember it, but i also have time to wait and think given text through without a hurry. Sheer extreme ammout of text and voice records in various dialects is only a cherry on top of the cake.


I used to have all of my Playstation games in German! Hahaha :-) It worked wonders! Then, later, I joined a World of Warcraft German server and that really was a major learning curve for me. I improved like lightning.

I would highly recommend videogames for language learning. :-)


hhmm...I've been wondering about the usefulness of trying video games for language learning. After reading your comment I'll definitely give it a go. Cheers.


"And those who watched the foreign film with subtitles in their target language improved by 17% in their target language!"

ah, this supports what Ive been saying for a long time. That's what I tend to do as if I watch a film in German, I dont know enough yet to get much out of it at all, it's a waste of time for me.

There is an exception to that thou, that being if I've choosen a film for someone AT MY CURRENT LEVEL, then it can be helpful eg watching something like Nicos Weg or Extr@ which are films for beginners and can start to build confidence in understanding.

To be trying to watch something too hard to understand is completely off putting and just hard to learn from. You end up just focusing on the English subtitles instead of focused on the German So I suggest only watch things that are suitable for your level of learning or pick something very short to watch eg I find my concentration wavers after about 6-8mins of listening to just German with trying to pick out words without subtitles. I do find that useful but only for VERY SHORT (minutes) amount of time WHILE fully focused on the german (Im do that at times with a song, shut my eyes and try to understand it)

I are managing though well if films are subtitled in German as you can see many English words coming into things but they just tend to sound different in the German.

Anyway, it's great to see a study which supports how I find things to be as I've heard quite a few here tell beginners just to go and watch films in the language they are learning but yes, it is not helpful if it's too hard. It's not much different if someone handed someone a standard book in the language the person is learning which is not for beginners and just said "read this and expected that the person will learn from it. Use things based on what level you are at.

I suggest to start up with music subtitled in both languages and then move on to music subtitled in the language you are using.


Desirable Difficulty. You want it difficult enough to challenge you, but not so difficult that you can't get anything out of it. Fortunately, our place on the learning curve constantly shifts if we're progressing, and we become more adept and capable of cultivating from "high level" sources.

Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.