Watching a movie in a foreign language can be a good way to expand your vocabulary or learn how to pronounce, but whether the learning is effective depends on a lot. For example, the level at which we speak the language of the film, and how quickly the subtitle is read.
When watching a subtitled movie, the viewer must simultaneously process verbal and nonverbal information through the visual and auditory perception system. Although subtitles are added to films that speak the original language for ease of understanding, the speed and tempo of the text cannot be affected and this can make processing difficult.
Lafort and Bairstow study Examination of cinematic comprehension performance among beginner, intermediate, and advanced participants in foreign languages. Each set of levels was divided into four parts according to the system in which the film was viewed: there was an original audio without subtitles, a foreign language film and subtitles, a foreign language film with mother tongue subtitles, a mother language film and a foreign language subtitle film. In terms of language learning, the release of native language dialogues and translations of foreign languages has been the most successful.
On the other hand, if someone speaks in the original language of the movie that is alien to him, but the movie is subtitled, his understanding of the script will be worse.
This is because our eyes automatically read the comments, and our attention is diverted from the image and its information to the comments. Captions are distracting and thus cause a cognitive load: it is difficult to process languages simultaneously and in two different ways.
Cognitive difficulties associated with switching between languages have been extensively documented in the scientific literature, slowing access to semantic information in particular. If a foreign-language film receives subtitles in the original language, or if a film in an original language receives subtitles in a foreign language, the brain is forced to quickly exchange two different languages, which can make it difficult to integrate elements of dialogue.
Thus, there are two main factors that can interfere with understanding: on the one hand, the alternation of languages, and on the other hand, the shift in attention between the modes of presenting dialogues (written and oral).
Captions allow for a better understanding of the dialogues and the situation in general, but may impair processing if their presence is not strictly necessary because they impose an increased cognitive load on the viewer. Therefore, it is important that the effectiveness of subtitles depends on the combinations of languages used and also on how well the person watching the film knows these languages. In general, subtitled films allow for a better knowledge of a foreign language and help to expand the vocabulary. However, viewers are not able to actively use this language, which is a prerequisite for strengthening skills, especially verbal expression.
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