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Subtitles as a Tool for New Language Learning Proposal

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Updated: Aug 23rd, 2022


Watching videos provides language learners a valuable exposure to the contextually based language. The incorporation of Audiovisual Translation (AVT) in language learning involves the transfer of audiovisual and verbal language media (Lertola, 2019). This language transfer process occurs between one or two languages. AVT is an umbrella term referring to film translation, screen translation, or multimedia translation. AVT modes also include revoicing or captioning and can be used in language learning. Video watching allows language learners to grasp the usage of language in real-life contexts to understand the culture of the language. However, the authenticity of the spoken language can be lost because of the speaking speed, which makes language learning students struggle to understand spoken content in a video. Captioning can aid these learners in comprehending audio-visual video material for easy learning. Subtitles serve as mediating devices for imagery and dialogue, which are essential elements in language learning (Ashcroft, Garner, and Hadingham, 2018). Through assisting language learners to cope with complex input, captions also serve as a vital crutch that can enhance learners’ perceived self-efficacy and their efforts in comprehending the spoken material.

Problem Statement

The number of words needed in achieving a reasonable level of eloquence in a language is a major obstacle in new language learning. For instance, in a recent review, an adult needs a vocabulary size of about 6,000 to 7,000 words to understand daily spoken texts and about 8,000 to 9000 words to interpret written phrases (Ashcroft, Garner, and Hadingham, 2018). Hence, language students must adopt a variety of learning strategies to maximize their acquisition of new words. Exposure to large quantities of the new language input is one approach to learning new vocabulary, thus augmenting incidental vocabulary acquisition. The context is where vocabulary is obtained as a product of processing the second language input unlike focusing on single words or phrases. Incidental vocabulary differs from deliberate vocabulary learning, which involves targeting particular words and phrases using such learning aides as flashcards.

Some new language students may overlook the importance of new language learning through watching films with subtitles. However, research supports that extensive contextual reading enhances incidental vocabulary acquisition (Ashcroft, Garner, and Hadingham, 2018). The process is also incremental and unpredictable, with partial terminology being built with time. Only a limited amount of vocabulary is acquired by reading. Audio input is also part of the learning approaches through teachers, tape, or CO recording accompanied by written texts in books. Video is a recent and innovative source of new language input and is an effective learning resource compared to conventional mono-modal audio input as the supplementary visual output significantly enhances or strengthens verbal messages, thus improving understanding of spoken or acted concepts (Ashcroft, Garner, and Hadingham, 2018). With the popularity of video sites including YouTube and film streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, vocabulary learning is now easy and quick. The authenticity of such resources in episodic dramas, short videos, or full films underscores video and subtitles as vital language learning resources.


The main aim of this study is to engage content analysis to understand the influence of Spanish film subtitles in the movie Alvio in enhancing the audience’s learning of a new language.


The main objectives of the study include:

  1. To establish the impact of film subtitles in the Spanish film Alvio on the audience’s vocabulary in learning the Spanish Language
  2. To determine the effect of film subtitles in the Spanish film Alvio on the audience’s commitment to learning Spanish
  3. To identify the role of film subtitles in the Spanish film Alvio in contextualizing vocabulary for Spanish language learners

Literature Review

Theoretical Overview of Vocabulary Acquisition Through Multimedia

The most relevant theory in exploring language acquisition through multimedia is the Cognitive Model of Multimedia Learning. The theory classified input data into two categories, including verbal and non-verbal. The framework argues that a human brain perceives, understands, subsumes, and integrates new material into an already existing system (Yawiloeng, 2020). Effective control of the acquired content, a concept termed the intrinsic cognitive load, and well designing of the presentation, an aspect known as the extraneous cognitive load, contribute to effective learning (Ramezanali & Faez, 2019). Hence, humans contain two distinct information processing systems: verbal, auditory, pictorial, and visual that when combined enhance learning. The verbal system receives the message such as written or spoken content, sound, and narrations through sensory organs including the eyes and ears. The visual system uses eyes to interpret and contextualize such information as video, photographs, on-screen texts, animation clips, and graphs (Ramezanali & Faez, 2019). Overall, the Cognitive Model of Multimedia Learning emphasizes the role of multimedia in promoting learning through connecting audio and pictorial messages to augment the vocabulary reserve of new language learners.

Subtitles for Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition

Second language vocabulary acquisition entails both premeditated and incidental learning. Recent research supports the role of video subtitles in enhancing vocabulary learning. Alsubaie and Alabbad (2020) investigate the impact of watching animation on acquiring the Japanese language among viewers. The authors used an online survey and an experiment examining the effectiveness of animation in enhancing language proficiency. The findings showed that watching animations significantly boosted viewers’ new language proficiency levels. The results further elaborated that exposure to animations expanded the viewer’s vocabulary level thus improving their language levels. Although the study does not directly assess the role of subtitles, its highlights the importance of video watching on language learning, which is part of the visual information processing system that facilitates meaning interpretation.

Subtitles are part of the modern approaches to effective language learning. Shariyevna and Atxamovna (2020) examine the various contemporary, innovative, and effective language learning strategies. The authors used a review whose findings emphasized that language erudition is a complex process that requires easy learning strategies. Video learning is one of the most effective languages learning approaches identified, which is easily accessible using smartphones. The research supports the use of digital technology and particularly watching videos as vital in new language acquisition.

More research supports the role of video in language learning. Perez and Rodgers (2019) also evaluated the role of audio-visual input in second language attainment. The authors used a review methodology whose findings supported the increasing role of video watching in learning and retaining new vocabulary. Equally, Loewen and Sato (2018) argue that videos offer an interactive learning medium to learners thus enhancing their remembering of new vocabulary. Indeed, vocabulary plays a critical role in acquiring a second language. On the contrary, Koponen et al (2020) state that users’ experience with subtitles was neutral and negative. However, the findings may be attributed to the generalization of the subtitle function, which in the current study involves teaching users a new language. In Koponen et al (2020), the subtitles were generally for enhancing the general film understanding rather than teaching a new language. Thus, learning a new word occurs through form and meaning, association, referents, and concept. The form is the spoken or written content, which is linked to meaning that is stored in memory. Hence, the reviews support the role of videos in enhancing new language acquisition.

Study Gaps to Fill

The review above clearly shows paucity in specific research investigating the function of subtitles in enhancing new language acquisition. Most researchers generally assess the impact of video watching on vocabulary and general language acquisition. Therefore, the findings of this study will augment literature on the purpose of movie subtitles in augmenting vocabulary acquisition, viewers’ commitment to learning a new language, and contextualization of vocabulary for easy remembrance of new words.


Content Analysis

This research will incorporate a content analysis study design to answer the research objectives. Content analysis is a study technique used to identify the existence of specific terms, patterns, or ideas in qualitative results (Coe and Scacco, 2017). This study will measure and interpret the existence, interpretations, and associations of certain specific terms, patterns, or principles using content analysis. For instance, the analysis may look for prejudice or partiality in the vocabulary used within a comment section. The analysis will therefore conclude the meanings in the documents, the respondents, and also the culture and period about which the document was written. In particular, the audience’s comments on the YouTube film Alvio will be analyzed to attain themes and keywords for analysis. The video was posted on 6th June 2016 by Movimiento Alivio and to date, it has over 420,260 views. The film is in the Spanish language with English language subtitles (Alvio, 2016). The video has attracted about 127 comments, which creates content for analysis. The comments are viewers’ personal views about the movie and the purpose of subtitles for a non-Spanish audience or Spanish language learners.


Alivio (2016).

Alsubaie, S.S. and Alabbad, A.M. (2020) ‘The effect of Japanese animation series on informal third language acquisition among Arabic native speakers’, English Language Teaching, 13(8), pp.91-119.

Ashcroft, R.J., Garner, J. and Hadingham, O. (2018) ‘Incidental vocabulary learning through watching movies’, Australian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 1(3), pp.135-147.

Coe, K. and Scacco, J.M. (2017) ‘Content analysis, quantitative’, The international encyclopedia of communication research methods, pp.1-11.

Koponen, M., Sulubacak, U., Vitikainen, K. and Tiedemann, J. (2020) ‘MT for subtitling: investigating professional translators’ user experience and feedback’, In Proceedings of 1st Workshop on Post-Editing in Modern-Day Translation, pp. 79-92.

Lertola, J. (2019) Web.

Loewen, S. and Sato, M. (2018) ‘Interaction and instructed second language acquisition’, Language Teaching, 51(3), pp.285-329.

Montero Perez, M. and Rodgers, M.P. (2019) ‘Video and language learning’, Language Learning Journal, 47(4), pp.403-406.

Ramezanali, N. and Faez, F. (2019) ‘Vocabulary learning and retention through multimedia glossing’, Language Learning & Technology, 23(2), 105-124.

Shariyevna, K.J. and Atxamovna, I.D. (2020) ‘Modern methods of language learning’, Journal of Critical Reviews, 7(5), pp.987-988.

Yawiloeng, R., 2020. Second Language Vocabulary Learning from Viewing Video in an EFL Classroom. English Language Teaching, 13(7), pp.76-87.

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