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5 Reasons why ESL Videos with Subtitles Promote English Proficiency

Boy watching esl videos

English as a second language (ESL) learners are steadily increasing all over the world. In the United States alone, it is projected to blow up to 25% of public school students by 2025. And this community is not limited to young children only; it is also composed of adults with low English proficiency because they were brought up using a different language. This mix offers more flexible and creative methods of learning the English language. And because of the recent pandemic that has struck the world, more people continue their lessons via instructional videos or tutorials. These videos, paired with the appropriate subtitles and captions, can help learners improve their English skills. Here are five reasons why incorporating subtitles to your videos are effective in learning. 

1. Convenience and Accessibility

These two are probably the most important reasons why subtitles are effective in ESL learning. First, learners can access the videos wherever they want, thanks to the rise of mobile devices. For example, they can watch a Youtube tutorial on the different Verb Tenses through a smartphone while on the bus or train home. Turning on the subtitles allows them to focus on the discussion despite the noise in the background. Captions can also help them refrain from being loud in a public space because they can mute the audio and still be able to read and understand the video.

Second, learners can watch and control the videos at their own time and pace. For instance, when someone watches a travel and food vlog and the viewer hears an unfamiliar word or phrase, he or she can press pause or rewind a few times to review the text. 

More importantly, videos with subtitles are more accessible for students who are hard of hearing or have learning disabilities. The texts provide the learners with information that they can understand, together with other visual cues and representation.

2. Engagement and Retention

Since subtitles are not limited to educational videos or tutorials, learners can still be exposed to them by simply watching Netflix and other streaming options. Children, in particular, are most likely to engage in cartoons and animation, and at an early age, can be exposed to captioned media. Imagine if they watch Cocomelon everyday — while they enjoy the images they see, their eyes are also drawn to the subtitles. And if they focus on the words on the screen, it will be easier for them to memorize and remember the lyrics of the nursery rhymes and children’s songs.

3. Recognition and Decoding

Beginner ESL learners can greatly benefit from subtitles because they can identify words and accents and figure out the context of sentences and phrases. Say a fifth-grader from Korea is watching a documentary narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch. He is a famous British actor who has a distinct London accent. The actor has an interesting quirk where he pronounces “penguin” as “pengwing”. Without the subtitles, an ESL student might not be able to decipher that the actor is actually talking about the animal “penguin”. The captions help lead the learner to identify the correct spelling of the word, which he or she can use to search for the proper pronunciation.

4. Vocabulary Acquisition

Besides identifying the correct spelling of words, ESL learners can expand their pool of vocabulary by watching videos with subtitles. They can learn not only words but also idiomatic expressions, slang words, and colloquial terms even by just watching any of the Harry Potter movies. A specific scene from the movie would be Hermione Granger throwing a book in front of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley at the library for “a bit of light reading.”. If one would look at the book, it is definitely heavy, so that gives the viewer an idea that she is not talking about the literal meaning. Instead, she used an idiom, a word or phrase that has a totally different meaning from the original word. As an expression, “light reading” means reading that is not too difficult to understand. The subtitles along with the scene in the movie offer the learner an opportunity to understand how and when idioms and other expressions are used.

5. Grammar

ESL videos with subtitles play a great role in the acquisition of proper grammar rules. The visual representation of the dialogues helps the learners understand the pattern of a sentence if it follows proper rules or not. For instance, the popular phrase, “Honey, I shrunk the kids,” is actually incorrect. Because of the subtitle, the learner can see that the verb “shrunk” is inappropriate for this sentence. It is the past participle of the verb “shrink”. Since the main character did the action but did not mention the exact time he did the action, the proper sentence should have been, “Honey, I have shrunk the kids”. The captions provided a key learning moment for the reader about verb tenses.

See why subtitles are important? Whether you are a teacher building a new online lesson, a travel vlogger publishing online, or a short filmmaker debuting your first masterpiece, consider including these captions before you upload or publish your work. You don’t have to do all the work by yourself if it is too much. Luckily, there is a free transcription service that can do the trick for you. Your audience, specifically the ESL community, would thank you for it.