Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Gains to Language Learners from Viewing Target Language Closed-Captioned Films

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Gains to Language Learners from Viewing Target Language Closed-Captioned Films

Article excerpt

Abstract:

In an effort to facilitate students' understanding of films in the target language, many instructors turn to films with English subtitles. Viewing films subtitled in English does not encourage learners to use their previously acquired listening skills, but rather allows them to rely on reading English instead of making the extra effort required to follow what they hear in the target language. Current DVD technology offers another option: watching foreign language films closed-captioned in the target language, which provides visual reinforcement of what students are hearing. In a comparison study of gains in vocabulary recognition made by students in intermediate Spanish conversation classes viewing films with English subtitles and others watching the same films with Spanish closed-captioning we found slight differences. However, surveys of student reactions pointed to a number of possible benefits for language learners of watching closed-captioned films in the target language. These merit further investigation.

Introduction

In an effort to facilitate students' understanding of films shown in the foreign language classroom, the use of films subtitled in English has become widespread. Most instructors consider subtitles absolutely necessary for intermediate and even the majority of advanced students because without them, films become largely unintelligible. Although providing students with the always-welcome opportunity to better understand what is happening on the screen, the use of English subtitles does not encourage learners to use their previously acquired listening skills. In fact, students can easily rely entirely on the subtitles instead of making the extra effort required to follow what they hear in the target language. Indeed, those students who might be able to understand much of the film without the subtitles will naturally tend to read them, thus focusing on this comprehensible input in English.1 The profession has generally overlooked the possible benefits to language learners of an alternative to English subtitles: watching foreign language films closed-captioned in the target language. Just as it is accepted almost without exception that the target language should be used as much as possible in language classes in order to maximize exposure to comprehensible input, it follows that exposure to closed-captioning in the target language is more desirable for foreign language learners than English subtitles. Students then have the necessary visual reinforcement of what they are hearing, which has great potential as a learning tool, and do not rely on English. Current DVD technology now makes this option more readily available.

Research in second language acquisition (SLA) has shown that if learning is to be effective and permanent it must be meaningful, involve active mental processes, and be reliable with the existing knowledge in the learner's mind (Hanley, Herron, & Cole, 1995). The following proposition was at the center of Vanderplank's study (1988) on the merits of teletext subtitles for students learning English as a second language: ". . . sub-titles might have potential value in helping the language-acquisition process (as defined by Krashen, 1981), by providing language learners with the key to massive quantities of authentic and comprehensible language input" (p. 272-3). He went on to posit that ". . . subtitles might help to develop language proficiency through enabling learners to be conscious of new and unfamiliar language that might otherwise simply be lost in the stream of speech" (p. 273). Participants in this investigation watched hour-long segments of BBC programs with closed-captioning in English. Afterwards, they engaged in a variety of activities related to program content, the language used, and their experience while viewing. Although this early study did not provide any quantitative data, the student responses to closed-captioning in English were extremely positive, and pointed to a wide range of benefits to language learners; they included reports of ". …

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