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Subtitles or no subtitles, that is the question

Updated: Jan 31

Movie on TV with subtitles
Movie with subtitles

Spoiler : IT DEPENDS !

  • on how YOU learn best

  • on your level

  • on your goals

  • on your motivation and your will

The question of subtitles often comes in two forms

- "My friend told me I should put the subtitles in original version, that's how they were able to learn/progress".


- "should I watch subtitles in my native language or in the original language of the video?"

chemin pour apprendre l'anglais

My answer to the first question is "good for your friend! They found THEIR way, they find what works for THEM".

You might fall in the category of language learners for who watching subtitles in Frenc when watching a French movie is a super efficient way to progress. In which case your friend’s advice is great.

But what if you're not? What if that’s not the way YOU learn best? Then you might end up having thoughts such as: "I'm not good at languages" or "My friend is better than me at learning" or "I'll never be able to learn" or "languages is not my thing".

As for the 2nd question, let's take a look at the different options you have when it comes to subtitles:

subtitles on netflix serie
Netflix serie with subtitles
  • watching a series in original version without subtitles,

  • watching the series with subtitles in your native language

  • watching the series in the original language it’s spoken in

  • A mix of the 3.

How do you choose ? Like I said, it depends (on many things only you have the answers to).

- How well or how little you understand the language . If you understand well enough, you might be happy to just enjoy the show you're watching regardless of whether you understand every single word.

- Subtitles in your native language can be a great solution if you read almost subsconsiously and you can totally focus on what’s being said.

- Subtitles in your native language is a bad idea if you get so caught up in reading that they don’t pay attention to what is being said at all.

- Subtitles in the original language is amazing for those who are slightly more advanced. They get those « aha »moments of « oooh that’s how you pronounce it ! » (for example)

- Subtitles in the original language is terrible if you lack confidence and are in a negative phase with regards to the language you are learning. It can make you feel overwhelmed.

Conversation about subtitles

You could challenge yourself for 5 minutes and not put any subtitles, on. You could just listen to the "music" of the language because you enjoy it and/or want to familiarize yourself with it.

You could then put the subtitles in the original version and focus on that for a little while before sitting back and chilling with easy to read subtitles in your native language.

So if there's just one take away from all this, it's the following:

Choose the option that will make you enjoy the show you're watching. Learning (anything) is best when you enjoy what you're doing. There's no way around that one.

Maybe a 4 minute youtube video or 15 min TEDx talk will be your "I'm concentrating on language learning and so I'll go for the challenging option" moment and watching a series is your "I need to relax so I'll go for the most comfortable option" moment.

The long and short of it is : do what is best for you. Play with it, test it, see what works for you.

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