Skip to main content Accessibility help

‘Effects of’ and ‘effects with’ captions: How exactly does watching a TV programme with same-language subtitles make a difference to language learners?

  • Robert Vanderplank (a1)


Ever since Karen Price's ground-breaking work in 1983, we have known that same-language subtitles (captions) primarily intended for the deaf and hearing-impaired can provide access to foreign language films and TV programmes which would otherwise be virtually incomprehensible to non-native-speaker viewers. Since then, researchers have steadily built up our knowledge of how learners may make use of these when watching.

The question remains, however, whether, and to what extent, watching subtitled programmes over time helps develop learners’ language skills in various ways. Perhaps surprisingly, this question of long-term language development has still not been fully addressed in the research literature and we appear to be in a largely ‘confirmatory’ cycle. At an informal level, on the other hand, there are countless stories of learners who have been assisted in learning a foreign language by watching subtitled or captioned films and television.

I shall review the contributions of key research studies to build up a picture of the current state of our knowledge and go on to outline, first, the current gaps in research and, second, some encouraging new approaches to learning by autonomous ‘users’ of foreign-language Internet media and same-language subtitles across languages, now more widely available.



Hide All
Baltova, I. (1999). Multisensory language teaching in a multidimensional curriculum: The use of authentic bimodal video in core French. The Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue canadienne des langues vivantes 56.1, 3148.
Bean, R. M. & Wilson, R. M. (1989). Using closed captioned television to teach reading to adults. Reading Research and Instruction 28.4, 2737.
Bird, S. A. & Williams, J. N. (2002). The effect of bimodal input on implicit and explicit memory: An investigation into the benefits of within-language subtitling. Applied Psycholinguistics 23.4, 509533.
Caimi, A. (2006). Audiovisual translation and language learning: The promotion of intralingual subtitles. The Journal of Specialised Translation 6, 8598.
Chung, J.-M. (1999). The effects of using video text supported with advance organizers and captions on Chinese college students’ listening comprehension: An empirical study. Foreign Language Annals 32.3, 295308.
Chung, J.-M. (2002). The effects of using two advance organizers with video texts for the teaching of listening in English. Foreign Language Annals 35.2, 231241.
Cooper, R., Lavery, M. & Rinvolucri, M. (1991). Video. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Danan, M. (1995). Reversed subtitling and dual coding theory: New directions for foreign language instruction. In Harley, B. (ed.), Lexical issues in language learning. Ann Arbor, MI: Language Learning/John Benjamins, 253282.
Danan, M. (2004). Captioning and subtitling: Undervalued language learning strategies. Meta 49.1, 6777.
De Bot, K., Jagt, J., Janssen, H., Kessels, E. & Schils, E. (1986). Foreign television and language maintenance. Second Language Research 2.1, 7282.
d'Ydewalle, G. & Pavakanun, U. (1996). Le sous-titrage à la télévision facilite-t-il l'apprentissage des langues? In Gambier, Y. (ed.), Les transferts linguistiques dans les médias audiovisuels. Paris: Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 217223.
d'Ydewalle, G. & Pavakanun, U. (1997). Could enjoying a movie lead to language acquisition? In Winterhoff-Spurk, P. & Van der Voort, T. (eds.), New horizons in media psychology. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher-Verlag, 145155.
d'Ydewalle, G. & Van de Poel, M. (1999). Incidental foreign-language acquisition by children watching subtitled television programs. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 28.3, 227244. Reprinted as M. Van de Poel & G. d'Ydewalle (2001) in Y. Gambier & H. Gottlieb (eds.), (Multi) media translation: Concepts, practices, and research. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 259–273.
Fallahkhair, S., Masthoff, J. & Pemberton, L. (2004). Learning languages from interactive television: Language learners reflect on techniques and technologies. In Cantoni, L. & McLoughlin, C. (eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2004. Chesapeake, VA: AACE, 43364343.
Gallagher, M. (1978). Good television and good teaching: Some tensions in educational practice. Educational Broadcasting International 11.4, 203206.
Garza, T. J. (1991). Evaluating the use of captioned video materials in advanced foreign language learning. Foreign Language Annals 24.3, 239258.
Goldman, M. & Goldman, S. (1988). Reading with closed-captioned TV. Journal of Reading 31.5, 458.
Guillory, H. G. (1998). The effect of keyword captions to authentic French video on learner comprehension. CALICO Journal 15.1–3, 89108.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1989). Spoken and written language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Holobow, N., Lambert, W. E. & Sayegh, L. (1984). Pairing script and dialogue: Combinations that show promise for second or foreign language acquisition. Language Learning 34.4, 5974.
Huang, H.-C. & Eskey, D. E. (19992000). The effects of closed-captioned television on the listening comprehension of intermediate English as a foreign language (ESL) students. Journal of Educational Technology Systems 28.1, 7596.
Koolstra, C. M. & Beentjes, J. W. J. (1999). Children's vocabulary acquisition in a foreign language through watching subtitled television programs at home. Educational Technology Research & Development 47.1, 5160.
Kothari, B. (1999). Same language subtitling: Integrating post literacy development and popular culture on television. Media and Technology for Human Resource Development 11.3, 111117.
Kothari, B., Pandey, A. & Chudgar, A. (2004). Reading out of the ‘idiot box’: Same-language subtitling on television in India. Information Technologies and International Development 1.3, 2344.
Kothari, B., Takeda, J., Joshi, A. & Pandey, A. (2002). Same language subtitling: A butterfly for literacy? International Journal of Lifelong Education 21.1, 5566.
Krashen, S. D. (1985). The Input Hypothesis: Issues and implications. New York: Longman.
Lambert, W. E. & Holobow, N. E. (1984). Combinations of printed script and spoken dialogues that show promise for beginning students of a foreign language. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 16.1, 111.
Laurillard, D. (1991). Mediating the message: Programme design and students’ understanding. Instructional Science 20.1, 324.
Lonergan, J. (1984). Video in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
MacKnight, F. (1983). Video in English language teaching in Britain. McGovern, In J. (ed.), Video applications in English language teaching. Oxford: Pergamon Press and The British Council (ELT Documents 114), 116.
Markham, P. L. (1989). The effects of captioned videotapes on the listening comprehension of beginning, intermediate, and advanced ESL students. Educational Technology 29.10, 3841.
Markham, P. L. (1993). Captioned television videotapes: Effects of visual support on second language comprehension. Journal of Educational Technology Systems 29.3, 183191.
Markham, P. L. (1999). Captioned videotapes and second-language listening word recognition. Foreign Language Annals 32.3, 321328.
Markham, P. L. (2001). The influence of culture-specific background knowledge and captions on second language comprehension. Journal of Educational Technology Systems 29.4, 331343.
Markham, P. L. & Peter, L. A. (2003). The influence of English language and Spanish language captions on foreign language listening/reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Technology Systems 31.3, 331341.
Markham, P. L., Peter, L. A. & McCarthy, T. J. (2001). The effects of native language vs. target language captions on foreign language students’ DVD video comprehension. Foreign Language Annals 34.5, 439445.
Mitterer, H. & McQueen, J. M. (2009). Foreign subtitles help but native-language subtitles harm foreign speech perception. PLOS ONE 4.11, e7785. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007785
Montero Perez, M., Van Den Noortgate, W. & Desmet, P. (forthcoming). Captioned video for L2 listening and vocabulary learning: A meta-analysis. System.
Neuman, S. B. & Koskinen, P. S. (1990). Using captioned television to improve the reading proficiency of language minority students. Falls Church, VA: National Captioning Institute.
Neuman, S. B. & Koskinen, P. S. (1992). Captioned television as ‘comprehensible input’: Effects of incidental word learning from context for language minority students. Reading Research Quarterly 27, 95106.
Paivio, A. (1986). Mental representation: A dual-coding approach. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pavakanun, U. & d'Ydewalle, G. (1992). Watching foreign television programs and language learning. In Engel, F. L., Bouwhuis, D. G., Bösser, T. & d'Ydewalle, G. (eds.), Cognitive modelling and interactive environments in language learning. Berlin & New York: Springer, 193198.
Pemberton, L., Fallahkhair, S. & Masthoff, J. (2005). Learner-centred development of a mobile and iTV language learning support system. Educational Technology & Society 8.4, 5263.
Price, K. (1983). Closed-captioned TV: An untapped resource. MATESOL Newsletter 12, 18.
Pujolá, J.-T. (2002). CALLing for help: Researching language learning strategies using help facilities in a web-based multimedia program. ReCALL 14.2, 235262.
Salomon, G. (1984). Television is ‘easy’ and print is ‘tough’: The differential investment of mental effort in learning as a function of perceptions and attributions. Journal of Educational Psychology 76.4, 647658.
Salomon, G. (1993). No distribution without individual's cognition: A dynamic interactional view. In Salomon, G. (ed.), Distributed cognitions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 111138.
Salomon, G. & Leigh, T. (1984). Predispositions about learning from print and television. Journal of Communication 34.2, 119135.
Schmidt, R. (1995). Consciousness and foreign language learning: A tutorial on attention and awareness in learning. In Schmidt, R. (ed.), Attention and awareness in foreign language learning. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i, National Foreign Language Resource Center, 163.
Schmidt, R. (2001). Attention. In Robinson, P. (ed.), Cognition and second language instruction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 332.
Smith, J. J. (1990). Closed captioned television and adult students of English as a second language. Arlington, VA: Arlington Refugee Education and Employment.
Sockett, G. & Toffoli, D. (2012). Beyond learner autonomy: A dynamic systems view of the informal learning of English in virtual online communities. ReCALL 24, 138151.
Stempleski, S. & Tomalin, B. (1990). Video in action: Recipes for using video in language teaching. New York: Prentice Hall.
Thompson, G. (1979). Television as text: Open University case study programmes. In Barrett, M., Corrigan, P., Kuhn, A. & Wolff, J. (eds.), Ideology and cultural production. London: Croom Helm, 160197.
Van Lommel, S., Laenen, A. & d'Ydewalle, G. (2006). Foreign-grammar acquisition while watching subtitled television programmes. British Journal of Educational Psychology 76.2, 243258.
Vanderplank, R. (1988). The value of teletext subtitles in language learning. ELT Journal 42.4, 272281.
Vanderplank, R. (1990). Paying attention to the words: Practical and theoretical problems in watching television programmes with uni-lingual (CEEFAX) subtitles. System 18.2, 221234.
Vanderplank, R. (1993). A very verbal medium: Language learning through closed captions. TESOL Journal 3.1, 1014.
Vanderplank, R. (1994). Resolving inherent conflicts: Autonomous language learning from popular broadcast television. In Jung, H. & Vanderplank, R. (eds.), Barriers and bridges: Media technology in language learning. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 119134.
Vanderplank, R. (1999). Global medium – global resource? Perspectives and paradoxes in using authentic broadcast material for teaching and learning English. In Gnutzmann, C. (ed.), Teaching and learning English as a global language: Native and non-native perspectives. Tübingen: Stauffenberg, 253266.
Vanderplank, R. (2010). Déjà vu? A decade of research on language laboratories, television and video in language learning. Language Teaching 43.1, 137.
Vanderplank, R. & Dyson, P. (1999). Who is in The Learning Zone? Evaluating the impact of Italia 2000. In Hogan-Brun, G. & Jung, U. O. H. (eds.), Media multimedia omnimedia. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 125138.
White, C., Easton, P. & Anderson, C. (2000). Students’ perceived value of video in a multimedia language course. Educational Media International 37.3, 167175.
Winke, P., Gass, S. M. & Sydorenko, T. (2010). The effects of captioning videos used for foreign language listening activities. Language Learning & Technology 14.1, 6687.

‘Effects of’ and ‘effects with’ captions: How exactly does watching a TV programme with same-language subtitles make a difference to language learners?

  • Robert Vanderplank (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.