Dual Subtitles: How Language Learning Can Be Twice as Nice
Subtitles are the unsung heroes of language learning.
But you’re not here to hear about plain old ordinary subtitles.
You’re here to make use of an effective, if under-used language tool: dual language subtitles for authentic video content.
Dual language subtitles provide captions in a language that you’re learning and in a language you’re familiar with.
Find out how to get instant translations for all the content in movies or videos you watch, and how to use this tool to fully grasp the structure, grammar and writing of your target language.
- How to Set Up Your Own Dual Subtitles Home Theater
- How to Use Dual Subtitles to Learn Languages
Dual Subtitles: How Language Learning Can Be Twice as Nice
How to Set Up Your Own Dual Subtitles Home Theater
Now that you know dual subtitles are possible, you may be champing at the bit to get started. However, using dual subtitles is a little tricky, and requires a little bit of technical literacy and patience to get right. There’s no such thing as a free lunch!
Or is there?
Use FluentU’s Built-in Dual Language Subtitles
If you’re not tech-savvy and would rather not mess around with video and subtitle files on your computer, FluentU provides a simple solution for obtaining dual subtitles on a huge number of select authentic videos.
FluentU is a program that takes videos like movie clips, music videos, commercials and other real-world content and adds language learning elements to them.
The subtitles are built into the videos, so you don’t have to do anything except choose a video and hit play. Subtitles will play in English and in your target language, and you can toggle any (or all) on or off. If you’re learning English, you can also toggle accompanying subtitles in Spanish, Korean or Chinese.
On top of that, subtitles are interactive—hover, click or tap on any word and the video will automatically pause to show you the definition of the word, along with example sentences, grammar points, a picture and even other videos where you can find the word being used.
On top of that, definitions are contextual, so you won’t be left guessing as to which definition of a word you’re seeing.
You can also add words as flashcards to personalized decks of your own making and use the accompanying personalized quizzes to study them.
FluentU can be used directly on the website or through the iOS and Android apps.
Set Up Dual Subtitles for Video Files on Your Computer
But maybe you already have FluentU, and in addition you want to be able to watch full movies and TV shows in a dual-subtitle format. Or you’re learning a language that’s not yet available. Or you just want to geek out over as many options as possible.
Not a problem!
Here’s a short tutorial on getting and using dual subtitles with the video files on your computer:
- First, you’ll want to download subtitle files from OpenSubtitles.org. There are a few different sites where you can download subs, but OpenSubtitles is the oldest and most respected. The collection is enormous, spanning around 50 languages and thousands of films and TV shows.
They even have their own forum and blog for advice. But all you really need to do to get started is search for the name of the movie or show you want.
- Then, select the language of the subtitles and download the SRT files you need. One SRT file is one set of subtitles—simple!
- Put the SRT files in the same folder as your video file, and make sure they have a similar name. For example, if you’re watching “Toy Story,” maybe your video file is toy-story.mp4, your English subs are toy-story.en.srt, and your Spanish subs are toy-story.es.srt.
- Next, make sure you have or download a good media player, like KMPlayer, VLC or Kodi, that will automatically allow you to choose between your sets of subtitles when you play the file. In the “Toy Story” example, you’ll see options for subtitles in English and Spanish.
But how to play them at the same time? Some players already include options to play more than one file at once, but you can also take the additional step of combining two sets of SRT files into one using a free service like DualSub.
Depending on your media player, you may get smoother results by combining your two SRT files into one ASS file.
Enjoy your dual subtitles!
Now, let’s look at what you can do with them.
How to Use Dual Subtitles to Learn Languages
Improve Your Listening Comprehension
First off, let me be clear that all dual subtitles all the time aren’t for everyone. This is why both of the options we recommended above can easily be adjusted to accommodate single-subtitle or no-subtitle watching. If you’re advanced enough in your studies, you may not need subtitles anymore at all. Just watch and understand and enjoy your hard-earned fluency.
But for the rest of us, when a native speaker opens their mouth in a target-language video, it can be overwhelming.
Simply listening along with a transcript is one of the best ways to get used to natural speech. But if you listen just one time, it might be tough-going.
Listening multiple times and following along with the subtitles or a transcript will bake those language patterns and vocabulary words into your brain in no time.
Learn Foreign Alphabets and Tough Spelling Systems
Did you know that same-language subtitling can boost literacy?
The applications for second-language learning are enormous. If you’re struggling to get your head around unfamiliar writing systems or complicated spelling, take a break from laboriously copying out the alphabet.
Switch on some videos with dual-language subtitles and just concentrate on the sounds and the writing. You can use the translations for understanding, but it’s the target language you’ll want to mainly be focusing on. Then go back to your instructional materials and watch as you make astonishing progress in reading your target language.
Check Your Understanding of a Language
When you watch a video in your target language, you may think you understand everything.
And when you read the target-language subtitles, you may also believe you’re following along perfectly.
But what dual subtitles bring to you is a way to instantly check if you’re actually understanding your target language or just getting the gist.
Cover up or turn off the “answer” (your native language) and play a short section of the video. Rewind and check to see if you got it right. It’s that simple! (With a FluentU Plus plan, Quiz Mode takes care of this part for you—and keeps track of the vocab you’re learning so it knows when you need to review something.)
Then repeat over and over. With hundreds of lines of dialogue in any film or TV show (and so many YouTube videos in existence!), this might be the most efficient and convenient listening practice exercise out there.
But what else can you achieve with dual subtitles?
Compare 2 Foreign Languages at Once
Lots of language learners like to double things up and study more than one foreign language at the same time.
That’s great, and I’m all for it. Learners like this have a special way to benefit from dual subtitles—listening to content in their native language and comparing two different translations.
Let me explain: You’ll hear your native language, which is effortless to understand. Then you’ll see translations of what was just said in both of the languages you’re studying.
This way you can get reading practice in both target languages and see where they might differ in terms of vocabulary.
Norwegian and Danish, for instance, are very similar in their written form.
By comparing the subtitles line by line, you can get a sense for where they do differ and strengthen both at the same time. Talk about efficiency!
Understand Nuances in Target Language Content
Here’s another tip that can work for multi-language learners.
Imagine you’re watching a film in one of your target languages and you understand it at a high intermediate level.
You know what the characters are saying, what they’re thinking and how they relate to each other.
If you put on subtitles in your native language, you’ll understand the meanings of the lines.
But if you add subtitles in a different language that you also understand, you’ll see how another translator from a different background rendered those lines, too.
This can actually add a lot of depth to your understanding of the film and the language.
Oftentimes films from other cultures have nuances that are hard to appreciate from the outside.
Let’s say you’re watching a film in Italian, and you understand French well, too. By comparing French and English subtitles for the film—you’ll see how the Italian lines were understood by two different translators and interpreted for two different audiences.
With a second opinion on the language used in the film, your understanding will be a lot more complete.
However, even if you don’t have a third language or set of subtitles for this extra context, you’ll still gain understanding of a lot of nuance from comparing a target-language transcript that you already understand to a full translation your native language. This is one way that advanced learners can still benefit from translations, and it also shows the value of another simple exercise: Working out a translation yourself and then comparing it to someone else’s translation.
Of course, there are a million and one ways to learn a language.
Whatever gets you thinking in and thinking about the language—that’s the best way to study.
Dual subtitles are just one of many tools available to you, but they’re one of the best.
Try them out today and see how they work for you!