Television and foreign-language learning
It is quite striking to compare foreign language competencies across European countries. When I moved to the Netherlands for my undergrad studies, I realized that my 18-year-old Dutch flatmate had better English skills than I, who had just spent two years in anglophone countries. She was not only better in English, but also a had much better intuitive understanding in other languages, I soon realized.
My flatmate explained it by her TV viewing habits, and it seems that this is an important aspects of foreign language competencies. Generally, Dutchmen or Scandinavians – who have more exposure to foreign languages through the common practice of airing films and TV in the original language with subtitles – have a higher level of foreign language skills than e.g. people from Germany, France or Italy where foreign programmes are mostly dubbed.
A new research shows even wider implications of television viewing and language competencies. It shows that for advanced learners, viewing foreign language programs with subtitles in the original languages enhances learning even more:
It appears that the largest benefit from this kind of real-world exposure, in the recognition of regional accents in a second language, comes from the use of subtitles in that language. But foreign-language subtitles are not what television viewers and filmgoers are familiar with. In many European countries (e.g., Germany) there is considerable public concern about international comparisons of scholarly achievements [e.g., 32]. Yet viewers are denied access to foreign-language speech, even on publicly-financed television programs. Instead, foreign languages are dubbed. In countries which use subtitles instead of dubbing (e.g., the Netherlands), only native-language subtitles are available, so again listeners are denied potential benefits in speech learning. Native-language subtitles are obviously essential for listeners who do not already speak a second language, and may thus be the only practical solution in cinemas. With the advent of digital television broadcasting, however, it is now possible to broadcast multiple audio channels and multiple types of subtitles. We suggest that it is now time to exploit these possibilities.