Words from the Wardrobe

Use subtitles and the original version to improve your language skills



Use subtitles and original version to improve your language skills

Improve your skills during the lockdown

In Spain, we are already in the second week of confinement. I’m sure that people around the globe are taking the opportunity to watch all those films and TV shows you had on your list for rainy, cold days.

And I’m sure that from time to time you’ll watch some of them in the original version because watching movies in their original version is a handy tool to improve your language skills.

Today, I am giving you some tips to make the most of this tool.

With or without subtitles? Should you use them in your mother tongue or in a foreign language?

The film Parasite has given subtitles the recognition they deserve. I’m glad about that, and I’d like to acknowledge my colleagues who work in audiovisual translation. In my opinion, a dubbed film or with subtitles is neither worse nor better than watching it in its original version. It all depends on your level and what you want to do: enjoy a movie or improve your learning.

If you have a high level, I recommend watching the film in its original version, without subtitles. You’ll probably miss some details, but I don’t think you’ll lose the thread. I don’t mind not knowing each and every word; when I see a movie in its original version, I focus on enjoying it. If necessary, I watch a specific scene again (just like I do when I see it in Spanish and right at the critical moment my dog Frodo starts barking).

If you have an intermediate level, I suggest you watch the movie in the original version with the subtitles in the original language. That’s how I learnt when I was studying, and it worked for me. But you have to keep in mind that, due to the format of the subtitles, you won’t find an exact transcription of what the film is saying, but that won’t prevent you from understanding it.

If you have a low level, my advice is not to get overwhelmed. Enjoy the film in its original version, to get your ear used to the language, and put the subtitles in your mother tongue, to make sure you understand it. Again, some things won’t match what the movie says, and that’s because the translation for subtitles is different from captions in the original version. In addition to space constraints, translators adapt subtitles to the target language and culture. That’s why you may see word games and expressions in the subtitles that, even though you’ve tuned in, weren’t said in the original version. In the original version, you will hear word plays and expressions corresponding to the source language and culture.

Which film or series should I watch?

Again, I think our language skills and our way of enjoying the film will influence our decision.

For low and intermediate levels, I recommend watching films or series that we have already seen, or whose plot we know. That way, we can focus more on learning the language without fear of losing the thread, because we already know what it’s about.

If you have a high level and you want to test yourself, take the plunge and do it with a show or a film that you haven’t watched before. I did it with The Good Wife and learned what a subpoena was 😉.

What about you? What’s your method for improving your Spanish or other language skills with films and TV shows? Tell me about it in the comments!




Alicia González, Spanish translator

Alicia González López

Hi! My name is Alicia, and I am a translator. My expert fields are website and software localization, e-commerce and marketing. After 15 years working for other companies, I decided to open my own translation firm, Prêt-à-translate in 2016. A dress may not suit two different people; same happens with translation. Long live context!
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