ScienceDaily posted an interesting article today about how subtitles affect language learning. Apparently in PLoS One, Holger Mitterer of Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and James McQueen of MPI and Radboud University Nijmegen found an interesting trend when subtitles are used with second language acquisition. The gist of the article is that people who are shown a program in their second language with subtitles in their native language seem to learn the words spoken on the screen, but do not get an ear for the phonemes in their second language as quickly as those who watch a show with subtitles in that second language. The combination of visual and auditory processing seems to be key in helping to develop a better understanding of accents and dialects that the listener hears. The research centered around a group of Dutch native speakers who were shown Scottish and Australian programs with either no subtitles, subtitles in Dutch or subtitles in English. Those that had subtitles in English seemed to respond better in the test that was administered later.
From my own personal experience of watching films and anime in Japanese with English subtitles, I can attest to the subtitles being a distraction from practicing my Japanese listening comprehension. If I know the subtitles are there, I can get lazy about listening and just read the English instead. While my brain does continue to process the Japanese subconsciously, that “learning by osmosis” if you will isn’t nearly as effective as the combination of subtitles and audio in Japanese. This study does offer some implications for how to best teach a second language in a classroom environment, many of which use videos as a supplimental teaching technique.
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