Subtitles Are An Integral Part Of The Immigrant Experience – They Helped Me Learn English

There are two camps of TV watchers in this world: team subtitles and team dubbing. I sit firmly in the former, because as Parasite director Boon Joon-Ho famously said, you can access a richer catalogue of culture if you overlook the “once-inch barriers”. But closed captions are also hugely helpful when learning a new language.

As a first-generation immigrant who came to the UK at six years old, I couldn’t speak the language, trailing behind my peers in my reading skills. But then I started watching TV with subs, consuming anything from CBBC cartoons to grown-up soap operas such as Neighbours and Home and Away, always with the captioning on.

Though it took me a while to be able to read quickly enough to catch the action, soon I did it effortlessly. In watching different worlds come to life on the screen, my own world began to widen as I understood language, grammar, punctuation.

Today, I enjoy subtitles because they enable me to catch details that are missed with audio-only viewing, but also because they deepen my connection to the English language. And I’m not the only one. Subtitles have closed the gap between cultures oceans apart.

One of the BTS band members, RM, who is the only fluent English speaker in the group, said he learned English through watching Friends and reading translated subtitles.

Adrienne Houghton, who hosts TV show The Real, also went viral when she shared a story of how reading subtitles as a child while her immigrant dad learned the language, secured her career success.

Many others, immigrant or not, can relate to the practice, whether conscious or subconscious.

The Friends cast helped RM – and many others – learn the lingo.
The Friends cast helped RM – and many others – learn the lingo.

Initially launched for deaf people and those hard of hearing, subtitles have grown in popularity in recent times. In fact, recent research found that young people are four times more likely to use subtitles than older cohorts.

Four out of five 18-25-year-olds prefer to have captioning all or part of the time, according to the charity Stagetext. That figure…

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