Listening while reading a transcript of what is said is the best way to improve overall comprehension as well as pronunciation. Extensive listening and reading also contribute to vocabulary acquisition. I have previously talked about TV series and movies that may include subtitles, but what about online videos? Youtube does have an automatic closed captioning feature (that is notoriously bad) but you cannot add subtitles to videos that you did not upload. Luckily, Amara and crowdsourcing exist to fill that gap.
Amara, formerly called Universal Subtitles, is a tool for subtitling videos found on Youtube, Vimeo or coded with HTML5. You simply paste the video URL to add it to Amara, and then you and/or anyone else can add subtitles in any language. You can also link your Youtube account to Amara so that the subtitles appear on Youtube itself without having to use the embed code provided by Amara. (If the owner of the Youtube channel hasn’t synced to Amara, then the subtitles are only available through Amara.) You can also download the subtitles in many formats – SRT is the most common – through Amara, which is useful if you download the video and watch it through VLC Player.
For example, here is a video on my Youtube channel with subtitles that I added in Amara. You can watch it through either Amara or Youtube, and either way the subtitles appear.
Now here’s a video that I helped add subtitles to – but since the owner of the Youtube channel to which this video was uploaded has not synced to Amara, the subtitles are only available if you watch the video through Amara rather than Youtube. Usually this doesn’t pose a problem as long as embedding is allowed through Youtube.
Amara is a great tool though it does have a few minor problems. I can’t seem to delete any videos that were added automatically from my Youtube channel (such as travel videos that are silent) or videos that I added only to find out embedding was not allowed. The subtitle sync tool is a bit buggy and hard to use. The search feature is not very good, and it is not possible to simply browse videos in a certain language. You can choose to sort by spoken language and subtitle language, but you must also type in a search term. Sometimes people have identified the video incorrectly. I came across some English and German videos even though I sorted by Dutch for both spoken and subtitled language. One video had numerous misspellings and typos though, as if the subtitler didn’t speak the language well. (This is one of the major problems with crowdsourcing: quality control.) Finding videos that include subtitles of the spoken language can be a pain, but I do believe that Amara will get better over time as more native or advanced speakers help to add subtitles.
Amara emphasizes the need to make videos accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as reaching as many viewers as possible by translating and subtitling into other languages. Yet they don’t seem to emphasize how extremely important subtitles are to language learning. And it isn’t simply watching/listening and reading at the same time that helps language acquisition. Adding subtitles to videos can also be a language learning exercise.
First, request a transcript of a video on Rhinospike. Once someone has provided the transcript, you can then add the subtitles to the video on Amara by copying and pasting. You must listen a few times to make sure the subtitles are synced correctly to the video, so it’s a way of making sure you repeat the material over and over. As a bonus, you are making more resources available to other language learners AND helping out the deaf population who truly need subtitles.
I’ll continue to try out Amara for subtitling the French Listening Resources videos. I am also requesting transcripts of videos in other languages on Rhinospike so that I can add subtitles in Amara and create listening resources for Spanish, Italian, German and Dutch.
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.