Turn off your subtitles.
In this article I’ll explain why turning off your subtitles might be the best thing you do for your English this year!
I’m often asked by students “Should I use subtitles to improve my English?”.
Now, my students are all intermediate to advanced level English learners. While using subtitles to improve English skills is a good choice for beginners, I’ll explain why it’s better for most learners that I work with to turn them off.
Should I use subtitles to improve my English? This depends on what your primary goal is. When subtitles are on people tend to read and not listen. So, if your goal is to improve your reading then use subtitles. If your primary goal is to improve listening skills then turn your subtitles off.
Let’s look into this a little further.
Reading Or Listening – Which Is Most Important For You?
SOOOOO many non-native speakers I work with use subtitles.
When I ask them, “Which is more important to you – improving your listening skills in English or improving your reading skills?” Almost all of them reply with “Improving my listening skills”.
So, I tell them to turn their subtitles off.
If will be challenging at first, but to make real improvements in their listening skills, they should turn off their subtitles.
So, if you’re wondering “Should I use subtitles for learning English and improving my English” you need to think about what area is most important for you to improve.
Most people have a good idea what areas of their English are most in need of improvement. It might be their spoken English, listening skills, vocabulary or reading or grammar.
If you aren’t sure, here are a few reasons why for most people, improving their listening skills are more important than improving their reading.
Most people have spent quite a lot of time at school in their home country developing reading skills. So many people arrive in an English speaking country to find work with a good level of reading skills – it’s often the other areas of their English, like listening, pronunciation and speaking that they haven’t had as much practise with.
Listening Skills are an area that many people find challenging when they move to an English speaking country. This is for a few reasons. The first reason being that often locals might speak with a different accent to what they heard learning English in their home country.
Also, the English that they hear around them will often have lots of local “expressions” and casual speech that they are not used to. It may also be faster than they are used to.
But the most important thing for me, as a pronunciation teacher, is how important good listening skills are for developing other areas of your English like, pronunciation and speaking skills.
The level of your listening skills affects how proficient you will be in other areas of your English. For example, people with poor listening skills often have difficulties with pronunciation.
It’s very difficult to improve your pronunciation if you can’t hear what the problems are, what you need to correct and what it is that you are aiming for.
Good listening skills are essential for successfully improving English pronunciation and accent.
So, have a think about you? Which is a more important skill for you to improve?
Reading or Listening? If the answer is reading – leave on your subtitles.
If the answer is listening (which it is for most people ) TURN THEM OFF!
How Will Turning Off Subtitles Help My Listening Skills?
Many people have subtitles on out of habit. They used subtitles to boost their skills when they had lower level English and they’ve kept them on, out of habit and for some, the misguided belief that it is helping their skills.
They have them on because they know they’ll catch everything more easily and follow what’s going on in the show.
The downside is that they are missing out on opportunities to improve their listening skills.
They aren’t actively improving their English. They are taking the easy option!
When we have subtitles on we are automatically reading.
Our brain can’t do too many things at once right! So when we are reading our ears pretty much turn off. This even happens to me as a native English speaker.
When you turn your subtitles off, your ears have to actively get working. It takes more effort but honestly, after just a matter of weeks, your listening skills will really start to improve.
Most of us are visual learners. We feel most comfortable learning through seeing to understand. It’s easiest for us. This is another reason why many people struggle with improving their English listening skills.
They simply aren’t getting the active practise they need to improve it and develop their listening skills.
All these areas of your English improve through practise so increasing the amount of listening practise will improve your skills a lot.
Actively listening while you watch TV and movies by turning off your subtitles will improve your ability to understand a wider range of English accents, English expressions and sayings and vocabulary.
What About When I Don’t Understand?
Of course there will be times when you miss what is being said or become lost and when you first turn off your subtitles this may feel like it happens a lot.
But I promise if you stay with it, it will become less and less.
If you watch something and their is something you don’t understand, like an ‘expression’ and you didn’t catch it, rewind and rewatch if you can. That is way netflix and other streaming services are a great option.
If a show is super complex for you, a fantastic learning strategy is to watch it twice with your subtitles off, of course. Each time you watch, you will pick up more and more and you’re getting more important practise.
What Are More Ways To Improve My English Listening Skills?
If you’ve read any of my other articles or seen any of my videos you’ll know that I am a big fan of podcasts.
I love podcasts for my students because again, it forces your ears to do the work.
Many of my students are visual learners, so they tend to rely on seeing things for learning. When that is taken away and it all depends on their ears – that’s when it becomes difficult.
See my article here on using podcasts to develop all areas of your English. Improving Your English With Podcasts.
I’m Not Ready! I’ve Always Used Subtitles.
Ok, so if it feels like too big of a jump to turn off your subtitles altogether – start with 80% 20% – 80% OFF and only 20% on.
You want to make sure you have as much subtitle off time as possible though, because you need to develop your skills in order for it to then get easier.
Don’t give up – it may take 3 – 4 weeks or longer for your listening skills to start improving. But they will…. so stick at it….. keep going! Keep actively listening and your skills will improve.
What Should I be Listening For To Improve Pronunciation Skills?
So, the first time we listen to something we listen for meaning. We are focused on understanding the message.
This is what you’ll be doing when you’re actively listening and watching a movie or TV.
Our brain is so busy with that, it really doesn’t have capacity to listen to things like vowel length, word stress, weak vowels, etc etc.
So, to listen for improving English pronunciation skills this is what I recommend, listen more than once.
Listen once for meaning. Once you understand the meaning, play it again and listen to pronunciation patterns such as the word stress, the pitch and emphasis of the speaker’s voice, past tense endings or vowel length.
Again this takes practise. At the start, you may not be able to hear these things. But the more you try and the more often you have a go at it, the more you’ll develop these skills.
Close your eyes while you listen!
It helps alot. It really makes you actively listen. Yes – there’s that word – ACTIVE again. I love it. This is all about making the most of situations like watching movies and TV where you can boost your skills. Turning times that would normally not be “improving your English time” into “improving your English time”. Win-win!
Recap – Why You Should Turn Off Your Subtitles
So, my in my opinion, if you’re living and working in an English speaking country, you would benefit greatly from turning off your subtitles!
Many people think that having the subtitles on while they are watching English movies and TV is helping them improving their listening skills. Well, the truth is that it’s not.
When you have the subtitles on, are you focused on listening or reading? You will be focusing mostly on reading! So in fact, you are not really listening much at all. Your brain is busy looking at words instead rather than paying attention to the sounds coming in your ears!
Do yourself a favour and turn off your subtitles. Your listening skills will improve quickly because you are actively improving them. If you miss some words or expressions, rewind the movie and play the section again. It may be a little frustrating at first but you will find you are soon picking up what speakers say more easily.
So, is turning off your subtitles going to be the best thing you do for your listening and pronunciation skills this year!
I hope so.
Keep up the great work.
Remember, every little bit helps.