It’s October 2012 and three months have passed since I started MusicEnglish. During that time I’ve been scratching my head trying to write an ‘ABOUT’ section for the site. I’ve never been able to find the right words as to why I believe so strongly that the use of subtitles (captions) are so useful to language learners.
My initial inspiration for subtitling music videos came about through my experiences as a language learner living in Spain. I simply found watching TV with Spanish subtitles made it all so much easier for me to understand Spanish. Of course that is not surprising really, is it? So then, why is it that the use of video and audio media in English language teaching is often reduced to ‘listening comprehension’ exercises alongside gap-filling exercises – I mean having subtitles on videos, or reading the tapescript while listening to an audio CD would almost amount to CHEATING! Subtitles give you the answers too easily – true but why the questions in the first place? Surely we can use subtitled video for teaching, not just for testing? But when they (the learners of English) watch English programmes on TV, what do they do? Well they tell me rather sheepishly that they use the subtitles.
Watching music videos with subtitles is indeed a different media experience, yes it’s a richer, fuller one. And one that we should be seeking to exploit more regularly in language teaching when and where the technology is available. There is no doubt that many people the world over love learning the words to songs they like, with subtitles these words can be enjoyed and appreciated alongside the music and imagery on-screen. That is what MusicEnglish is all ABOUT.
I recently came across a fascinating blog that is devoted to the subject of subtitling. Dawn Jones the author of i heart subtitles relates her experiences of subtitles as a person who is hard of hearing. Importantly for me though is that she picks up on the fact that subtitles are not just for people with impaired hearing but for everybody. This is what she says;
Hard of hearing since birth, subtitles being available on TV played an important role in being one of many things that helped me cope in a hearing world (and still does today). Most popular programmes had subtitles and so I didn’t miss a single word of what was being said – brilliant – better than real life! This is just one example of how subtitles have had a positive influence on my life. People at school also wondered why I knew all the lyrics to songs in the charts – the reason – I always watched Top Of The Pops (bring that show back please BBC) with the subtitles on! My point here is that same language subtitles in my mind isn’t always just a resource for the deaf or hard of hearing – ever sung at karaoke? The words you sing along to are a form of subtitling too, and sometimes subtitles can used in creative ways for entertainment and to educate.
Thanks to Dawn for finding the words for me.