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.com, allsubs.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.
Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.