When watching films in languages I can understand but which are foreign to me, I try to follow the spoken dialogue and read the subtitles at the same time. This is quite a challenge. When the subtitles are not there, I can usually follow the dialogue better because my concentration isn’t split between listening to one language and reading another.

What is even more challenging is watching a foreign film with subtitles in a language other than English. For example, while in Taiwan I saw a few films in French and Taiwanese with Chinese subtitles. Trying to understand them was hard work.

Foreign films or TV programmes with subtitles in the same language are actually easier to follow than those with no subtitles. In China and Taiwan for example, most films have subtitles in Chinese because not everybody there can understand Mandarin.

This entry was posted in Language.

10 Responses to Subtitles

  1. Weili says:

    As a native-Mandarin speaker, having subtitles on Chinese TV shows and movies, be them from Taiwan or mainland China, has always been an annoyance to me.

    However, I later discovered that it’s a blessing for some of my friends who are learning Chinese.

    I remember when we first came to the U.S. more than a decade ago, my father bought a Closed-Caption machine (back then they weren’t built into the TV) and thought it was a great learning tool for English. It was only later did we find out that the CC machine was meant for people who are deaf.

  2. Polly says:

    I often like to put on foreign sub-titles with English movies just to practice. The funny thing is, it changes my perception of the actors and the setting later when I reflect back on the movie. It feels like a foreign film. I remember American actors as having spoken French / Spanish. It’s a strange thing, but reading has a much bigger impact on my imagination than listening.

    I usually leave the English closed captioning on when watching TV. (It helps when surrounded by talkative people.) Then, I tend to read and ignore the spoken words completely.

  3. Mike says:

    When I can understand the language being spoken, I dislike having subtitles on because I don’t feel like I need them. But if the dialogue is in a language I don’t understand, I don’t find subtitles distracting.

    I also know some people who would never watch a subtitled movie or TV show to save their lives. :\

  4. Samawel says:

    Subtitles are life-savers to me when it comes to films. I’m used to being not distracted by subtitles, since here practically every English-language show is subtitled in Arabic.

    But occasionally the subtitles piss me off because of the horrible translating some people do. There was that Da Vinci Code documentary on the Discovery last week or so, Dan Brown’s name was translated/transliterated as “Lanbrawn”–Not exactly the name. And occasionally they’d get the meaning misunderstood in the translation. 🙁

  5. Delano says:

    There’s a local TV show here called “Isidingo” (The need). The script is mostly English but scattered liberally throughout the show are multilingual dialogues in English, Afrikaans and other African languages (possibly Zulu or Xhosa, I’m not certain). Whenever a character switches to a non-English language, subtitles appear. I personally find that the actual spoken word does not translate well into the subtitles; it loses a lot of it’s impact, and sometimes it’s not even really accurate. Seeing as I don’t understand foreign films too much, I don’t know if this is a common problem.

    By the way, Isidingo is a really awful show anyway 🙂

  6. Declan says:

    I often watch TG4, an Irish channel with a lot of programs in Irish. I find English language subtitles distracting because I will read the English and not listen to the Irish.

  7. Adam says:

    When I lived In Israel, I found that many movies and TV shows were subtitled in two or three different languages (any combination of English, Hebrew, Arabic, and French). With 3 rows of subtitles, not only were they distracting, but they covered half the screen!!

    My first movie there was a Kung Fu movie in Chinese, which I don’t speak at all. The subtitles were only in Hebrew, Arabic, and French. Although I had never studied French, I found myself reading the French subtitles rather than the Hebrew ones, because I was more comfortable with the Latin alphabet, and I could recognize a lot of the vocabulary. Plus, I was not able to read the Hebrew alphabet at a normal speed.

    By the way, it was an awful movie and waste of 14 sheqels 🙂

  8. Zachary says:

    I actually like subtitles. Often, I tend to add close-captioning on television just to practice reading and listening, but I really dislike it when the text comes twenty minutes after it was spoken.

    When in another language, I do like subtitles but not always. I sometimes prefer just listening to the movie in the other language and try to guess what is happening, but I don’t mind so much if subtitles are there.

    However, I hate it when there’s voice-overs to the original movie, but only old movies because modern movies have much better VOs. This often happens on chinese origin films, the VOs are horrible, they’re just made so that you laugh at the corny voices when you watch them.

  9. Jane says:

    I would much rather have subtitles on a film than have dubbed voices – it really annoys me when the actors’ mouths don’t match the words they’re saying! If the film’s in a language I can understand (even if I don’t understand very much) it’s always interesting to compare the foreign language and the English subtitles!

  10. Polly says:

    If the gap between English and the other language gets to be too big, could it be argued that the world is not actually watching the same movie?
    There’s a big difference between saying, “Gianni sleeps with the fishes” and “We shot him with machine guns.” Dialogue matters beyond just getting the plot points across.

    Is Shakespeare, (who is celebrated for his prose and used a lot of iambic pentameter) just as worthy of literary accolades translated into everyday Japanese or Swahili…or even English slang for that matter? Probably not. You lose a lot of the rhythm of the language and textual elements. I would think that some things have been lost even in English in the intervening 400+ years.

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