Improve your nation’s English skills – use subtitles

For better or worse, the language of business and science is English. If you want your citizens to be able to take part effectively in today’s world, English skills are a must. The majority of films and popular TV series are also recorded in English. Whether that’s a good or bad thing isn’t what’s being discussed here though…
Every time I visit a country where people’s English is generally excellent, I always ask the same question – is the TV people watch dubbed into the local language or subtitled? If standards are very good, the answer is usually ‘subtitled’.
I was astonished last week in Romania at how well people spoke English. People in Sun offices worldwide speak good English, as you’d expect, but my colleagues in Bucharest spoke *excellent* English. Equally, the engineer who came to fix the heating in my hotel room spoke good English, as did the driver who picked me up from the airport. Compare the average standards of English in, say, Germany and France, where TV is dubbed and you’ll find them generally way behind Holland and Romania, outside of the tech world I live in at least.
I wonder if any Education Ministers out there make subtitles a matter of policy?
Watching soaps during my year as a language assistant in Germany made a huge difference to my spoken German. Without Verbotene Liebe and Marienhof, I’d have been able to quote Goethe, but still wouldn’t have been quite sure how to ask someone to pass the butter, or tell someone to keep their hands off my girlfriend or else I’d smack them one in the Schnautze. Not that I had a girlfriend, or would have punched someone in the gob, but it was good to file that one away for potential future reference.

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5 Responses to “Improve your nation’s English skills – use subtitles”

  1. Geertjan Says:

    I agree 100% with you about the connection between TV subtitles and quality of English in a non-English country. However, the downside is that the country’s own language becomes diluted. English is so prevalent in Holland, for example, that there are more Dutch bands singing English than Dutch (also because a Dutch band won’t ‘make it’ outside Holland while singing Dutch, I guess). Countries need to make choices between trying to delay the onslaught of English and preparing its populace for that same onslaught.

  2. Marco Says:

    Additionally to Geertjans reply, I’d like to know what’s the point in learning a very bad US or UK dialect instead of good old school english? 🙂
    I think my english is pretty good, thanks to our german schools and my interest in reading english texts but understanding "native" US/UK speakers is very hard for me while it’s no problem to understand people who speak english as a foreign language.

  3. Magnus Nystedt Says:

    I agree as well. I’m from Sweden and we do subtitles, hardly any dubbing unless for little kids.

  4. Magnus Nystedt Says:

    I agree as well. I’m from Sweden and we do subtitles, hardly any dubbing unless for little kids.

  5. Janos Cserep Says:

    Hi Chris,
    Add satellite tv to the list. I remember watching Sky One and Sky Movies every day after school during the 90s. There weren’t any subtitles at all but I remember seeing the Robin Hood movie by Mel Brooks ("unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent") at least a dozen times.
    Right now the only channel on my TV that is subtitled is BBC Prime. Not that I get to see any TV these days:)
    Janos

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