Improving Comprehension of Foreign Languages with TV Series, Movies and Subtitles

Watching television shows and movies in the target language is a great way to learn the (real) language, but it is even better if you can read along with the subtitles while watching and listening. Most linguistics studies and language students agree, but someone needs to tell the producers of DVDs this.  I am still amazed that there are several French movies and TV series on DVD that include absolutely NO subtitles at all – not even for the deaf & hard of hearing population, which is extremely unfair and a bit insulting.  Even though the loi sur le handicap from 2005 stated that the seven main French television stations must subtitle 100% of their programs from February 2010 on, this does not mean that the DVDs also include the subtitles.

I bought the first season of Les Bleus: Premiers Pas dans la Police last summer after seeing it on M6. It is actually a decent French show that is not a rip-off of an American show, and it includes plenty of slang and informal language. There are subtitles when it is broadcast on M6 and its sister channel W9, but the DVDs have no subtitles at all. Consequently, I am not going to buy the 2nd/3rd season DVD set because it’s not very useful to me. I’ll just wait until it is on TV again and record it on my Freebox.  Luckily the one other French TV series that I like, Kaamelott, does include subtitles and it’s really funny so I recommend it to all French learners.

 

You can find subtitles in various languages for major movies online at sites such as subsmax.comallsubs.org, opensubtitles.org, bestsubtitles.net, u-subtitles.com, subscene.com and even victoire.b.free.fr/VO.ST.FR./ for a bunch of French subtitles if you still feel like watching in the original language, but want to learn some vocabulary by reading the subtitles in French. I used to do that years ago with American DVDs that only had English as the audio but did provide a few other languages in subtitles.

However, finding subtitles for French series like Les Bleus is practically impossible since most subtitles are not created for language learning purposes or even for the deaf community, but so that foreign programs can be watched in the original language or because no one wants to wait months and months for a dubbed version to air in their country. Most of these subtitle websites offer .srt files which means you have to watch on your computer with VLC, though you can hardcode the subtitles if you really want to create your own DVD or just hook up your computer to your TV screen. Sometimes the synchronization is not exact, so you might need to add or subtract a few seconds.

For anyone else in France, adslTV is a great program for watching TV on your computer if you subscribe to Free, SFR, Orange, Alice or Bouygues. Not all channels can be watched through adslTV (most notably, TF1, M6 and W9 do not allow it) but you can turn on the subtitles and record programs to your hard drive. I use it often for watching and recording shows on the three RAI channels because I can’t always turn on the subtitles with my Freebox but I can with adslTV, so it’s helping a lot with improving my comprehension of Italian.

The site Medias-soustitres, which was created by volunteers for the deaf community, also has a list of French DVDs that do include subtitles since a lot of online stores (Amazon.fr I’m talking about you!) don’t always include proper information about what subtitles are available.

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  • http://rhinospike.com Peter (rhinospike.com)

    I try to watch American movies in Spanish, and many movies have both audio and subtitles in Spanish on the DVD. The biggest problem I have with these is that the subtitles almost never match what's being said, so I can't use the subtitles to try to understand what's being said. =(

  • http://labelleinfrance.com Stephanie

    That is such a great tip. I get mad when I buy a French DVD in the US and it only offers english subtitles. French subtitles makes it so much more fun. You're right, if not for the language learners sake than at least for the hearing impaired – subtitles in the language the movie is in is a must.

    Thanks for the tip on DVD series that DO have the French language subtitle option. I will def check those out! any other television series you recommend?

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    :D

    Yup, like I said, this is a brilliant method of learning the spoken everyday language, but I'd also add that you should search for the script (or a transcript, essentially the same thing for our purposes) of the movie, they're often available online, -sometimes- even in different languages (I managed to find the English script for Maria Full of Grace, like I said).

    I'd also just say screw the DVDs and download the movies online if they don't offer subtitles on the DVD because then it's really easy to download the subtitles from one of those sites I gave you (that you mentioned above) and plug it into VLC (my preferred video player) and VLC will play the subtitles with the movie that you downloaded separately.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • http://www.journeyw.blogspot.com/ Viajera

    This is really interesting info., Jennie. See, I fancied that I'd just start watching Dutch cartoons and hopefully stuff would start to sink in (bolstered by my language class, of course). I've known people who said they learned another language by watching soap operas, etc., and I've always heard that many post-WW immigrants to America learned English by going to the movies…all sans subtitles, of course. Good to hear that the subtitles are a good way to go.

  • Aamba

    Exactly! Why do they have different words being said than what they write? Can't they coordinate to match up the translations?

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Yes, this is a big problem with subtitles. Unfortunately they are never an exact transcript of what is said so sometimes they're not as helpful as they should/could be.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Do you have any favorite websites for finding scripts or do you just do random online searches?

    I've already tried looking online for Les Bleus, but no luck. :/ France has this stupid Hadopi law against downloading, and since my boyfriend works for the government, I try not to do anything illegal just in case. lol

  • http://buzzraid.com Mike

    Glad to see a language learning expert actually post this since so many think that they can cure something by adding another expensive course. When I'm learning languages or at least getting a few basics down before visiting a country where I don't speak the language I will take a quick basic course then simply review by watching other people speak the language naturally. It definitely helps.

  • Anna Van Sant

    A site with a bunch of fan-copied transcripts of TV series (mostly American/British – looks like no Les Bleus) is http://www.hypnoweb.net/. Not all episodes of all shows have them but there's a pretty good collection. To get to them choose the show, click on 'Les Episodes' in the left column, the season, the episode and, if it exists, 'Script VF' I studied a bunch of Buffy episodes and it's amazing what it has done for my listening comprehension.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I really wouldn't worry about legal problems with scripts, that's about the last thing copyright holders would care about.

    There are tons of sites out there that have scripts available, these are just the first 3 I found:

    http://www.imsdb.com/

    http://www.script-o-rama.com/snazzy/dircut.html

    http://www.simplyscripts.com/

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • Jerry Bauer

    Good Day to All! I tried to download to my pc ADSLTV so that I could watch RAI italian tv with subtitles as you do but it would not download. I dream of being able to watch RAI with subtitles. You are so very RIGHT! Subtitles in the target language help alot.
    Jerry Bauer, staten island, ny

  • Jerry

    Ciao, I am studying italian and would love to be able to watch RAI with subtitles on my labtop. Anyone know of a way to do this? I love this blog! Jerry

  • http://www.moldremoval.com/f.florida-mold-removal-contractor.clearwater.33755.html Mold Removal Clearwater

    Glad to see a language learning expert actually post this.I would love to be able to watch RAI with subtitles on my labtop.Good Day to All!

  • http://www.moldtestingservice.com Mold Testing

    Glad to see a language learning expert

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    Most of these subtitle websites offer .srt files

  • http://trinicreole.blogspot.com Pablo

    Hi Jenny. First of all congratulations on such a wonderful site – it is a blessing to language nerds everywhere! I had the same problem when I bought DVD’s in France, I would watch the programmes on TV with subtitles and when I would buy them (Pus Belle La Vie etc.) there wouldn’t be any. Big bummer. However I was pleasantly suprised when I bought season II of Friends to see that there were audio tracks AND subtitles in FIVE languages (English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian) there were subtitles in a further eight or so languages. I know it’s not exactly the same thing as watching a native French programme but I think that they did manage to help me immensely with my proficiency in foriegn languages. Being already familiar with the story lines also helped a lot, I think.

    Cheers,

    Paul (Fellow ex-assistant and language buff)

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Hi Paul! Yeah, I still recommend Friends for language learners even though the dubbing is awful. Knowing the storylines is a big advantage when you can’t understand everything, and not having to focus immediately on all the cultural differences that you would find in French shows is another plus.

  • http://www.moldtesting.org Mold Removal

    Thank you very much, I will certainly come back to visit often and definitely tell some of my internet-inclined friends to visit this site.

  • Cat

    Would you happen to know where I can actually watch Kaamelott online? I can’t find any site where I can watch it in Canada, only in France ><

  • MRK44

    You can also search french subtitles on this website :

    http://s168693682.onlinehome.fr/

    (over 20 subtitle websites included).

  • http://www.nikrolls.com/ Nik Rolls

    I love Kaamelott. The problem with using it to learn French is that the English subtitles simply can’t keep up with the fast-paced original dialogue. My French friend who put me onto the show translates it for me occasionally, and what they’re saying is often two, sometimes three or more times as much what is being shown in the subtitles.

  • Choriste

    Greetings to all !

    Although Kaamelott is indeed a hilarious series, I would hesitate to recommend it as a French learning and practice tool.

    It is all written in Parisian argot, which is almost a separate language in its own right, with very many different nouns, verbs and expressions, to those of standard French. BTW…it is precisely the fact that it is written in argot which initially attracted me to it. Imagine the historically hilarious discrepancy between the Celtic Roman-occupation-era king Arthur, speaking like an average modern-day titi ( Parisian ) LOL

    I enjoyed this series so much that I purchased all of the DVDs, barring Livre 6, which I intend to buy soon, now that it is available on the local Québec market.

    I also use Kaamelott to teach French to an Iranian lady-friend. But, that is not for the faint of heart, for, apart from she having to learn all of the standard French, I must also devote a lot of time explaining to her the colloquial, and especially colloquial Parisian “dialect”. It usually takes us about one to two hours to go through one single episode and these episodes, when shown on a TV screen, are relatively short, maybe from 7 to 10 minutes.

    So, proceed at your own risk ! héhéhé

    But, for those who are brave enough, I definitely recommend Kaamelott as being the funniest TV series put out in a long time by the French.

    Enjoy !

    a+

    jf alias Choriste

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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