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Once you’ve mastered your target language, you’ll be able to watch TV shows or YouTube videos without subtitles (as well as listen to radio and podcasts). That’s proof of your mastery and most likely your ultimate goal.
However, becoming fluent in Portuguese will take time and subtitles will for sure come in handy throughout your learning journey.
So, yes. As a language learner, you can and should lean on subtitles to help you advance your Portuguese language skills.
Now, whenever using subtitles in your learning practice, there’s a number of things you should consider for it to be as effective as possible.
In this article, you’ll get a few useful insights as to how to make the most out of subtitles in the context of language learning. Let’s start with distinguishing between intralingual and interlingual subtitles.
Intralingual vs. interlingual subtitles
Intralingual subtitles are subtitles in the same language as the audio, that is, your target language. Interlingual subtitles, on the other hand, imply that the audio and subtitles are in different languages.
The interlingual scenario offers two variants: either you are listening to your target language with subtitles in your native idiom (or another idiom you are comfortable with) or vice versa.
I will soon discuss when you should be using one or the other. For now, let me make you aware of how today’s technology broadens your language practice possibilities.
Learning and practicing a foreign language has never been so accessible and convenient as it is today. Much of this improvement comes from advancements in technology and AI, namely, the increasing capabilities of machine-generated subtitles.
As of the time of this writing, you can look for audiovisual content anywhere on the internet and easily pull in machine-generated subtitles in your language of preference.
Whether you are browsing YouTube, Netflix, or Prime Video, there are several browser extensions* that will do the magic for you.
Now, you may be thinking that machine-generated subtitles will most likely be unreliable. Well, not so fast. I’ve been testing these tools lately and I must admit I am quite impressed.
Granted, they still miss a number of contextual subtleties and all of that. But for the most part, these technologies are quite accurate (and getting better by the day). It is, therefore, my conviction that any language learner can greatly benefit from these tools, which by the way are free of charge.
Alright. You are now aware of the possibility of pulling in subtitles in any language when browsing the internet (all you need is an extension installed in your browser like the ones mentioned above).
Let’s now move on to discuss the use of interlingual vs. intralingual subtitles and how you can resonate around that (in the context of language learning).
Tips! Here’re a few suggestions for Portuguese language learners who may remain skeptical about machine-generated subtitles and prefer the “real” deal:
• Interlingual (EN audio w/ PT subs) > Foreign series on RTP play (you’ll probably need a VPN in case you’re outside Portugal)
• Interlingual (PT audio w/ EN subs) > if you subscribe to any streaming provider such as Netflix or Amazon Prime, search for Portuguese/Brazilian movies and turn on the subs provided by them
• Intralingual (PT audio w/ PT subs) > 22 Online Portuguese TV Shows with Subtitles to Boost Your Language Learning + 10 YouTube Channels for Portuguese Language Learners
Should we use intralingual or interlingual subtitles?
Here’s the short answer. Intralingual subtitles are, in principle, always to be preferred – they provide a higher degree of language immersion and help you train your brain to stay away from back-and-forth translation between your native and target languages, which is crucial to the process of becoming fluent.
In practice, however, intralingual subtitles may not always be an obvious choice. It always comes down to a balancing act – your practice should always be challenging without becoming overwhelmingly difficult (to the point that it feels meaningless and you give up).
Say, for instance, that you are an absolute beginner and you start watching a Portuguese soap opera with Portuguese subtitles. Chances are that it will be very hard for you to make any sense of it and, before long, you will turn it off. Again, your practice should be challenging, but it also should be giving and compelling. Otherwise, what’s the point?
In that situation, it would be preferable to watch the episode with subtitles in a language you have a good command of. You’d still get exposure to your target language’s audio and learn new words. Above all, you’d be able to follow along and enjoy the show while making tangible progress in your learning.
Now, within the interlingual practice, it is always preferable (also more challenging) to have the audio in your target language than the other way around.
If you choose to have the audio in your native tongue (w/ subs in your target language), you’ll still make progress by, say, getting acquainted with a few new words. Nonetheless, you’ll be missing out on precious exposure to your target language’s sounds and melody, which is a cornerstone of your learning journey.
Here’s the thing. Learning efficacy and difficulty level are positively correlated.
|1. Interlingual subs (audio in your native language)
|2. Interlingual subs (audio in your target language)
|3. Intralingual subs
Keep in mind that the progression depicted in the table above is not linear – it totally depends on the complexity level of the content you are consuming.
For example, it is one thing to watch a short-format show with a well-delimited topic. It is another thing to watch a political debate where four guests representing four different political parties discuss the state of the nation. You may be on mode 3 while watching the former, but you might need to revert to mode 2 to watch the latter.
Complexity levels apart, you want to transition from mode 1 to 3 as you move on along your learning journey. That’s the principle.
So, whenever you are practicing, always be conscious of that balance I’ve been mentioning: it should feel challenging without being overwhelmingly difficult. If you are practicing, say, on mode 1, and it doesn’t feel as challenging as it should, then move on to mode 2 (and so on and so forth).
Reading tips! If you enjoyed reading this post, you’ll love this one: Mindsets and Strategies to Learn Portuguese the Best (or any other language)
Stay tuned for upcoming courses, reads, and other novelties.