Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

One Change You Can Make Today to Speak English Better

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Feb 11, 2013 @ 07:19 AM

speak English better without using subtitles, guy with crutchesDo you know what a crutch is?

When you break your leg, you go to the hospital, get a cast put on it, and they give you a set of crutches.

These crutches are great because they make it possible to walk and accomplish daily tasks.

But what happens when it comes time to take off the crutches?

You notice that your leg muscles have shrunk because you haven't been using them and maybe you even feel scared to walk without the crutch.

You are afraid you might fall down and look silly in front of people on the street.

Well, when you use subtitles in your native language while watching movies or TV shows, you are also using a crutch.

In today's post, I will tell you why turning off the subtitles is the one change you can make today to speak better in English.


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Are you using subtitles as a crutch while you learn English?


What is your crutch as an English learner? For many people, their crutch is subtitles! When you make the choice to watch a movie or TV program in English instead of your native language, you are taking a key step to being able to speak English better.

But as an intermediate or advanced learner, when you use the subtitles in your native language, you are using a crutch! That's a problem!



Make a small change and speak better in English


 remote control, turn off subtitles to speak better in EnglishThe next time you decide to watch a movie in English, try turning off the subtitles in your native language and just listen to the voices in English.

The first few times you do it, you might feel frustrated and bored, but if are really serious about reaching your goal of speaking English better, it's important to challenge yourself.  In order to challenge yourself, you must inconvenience yourself a little!

This is a great way to do that!




If Ana can do it, you can do it too


 quote about subtitles and english learningAna, one of my students, came to class the other day with a big smile on her face and said that since we began our lessons a few weeks earlier, she had made a major change to her daily habits.

She had stopped using subtitles in her native French language when she watches TV.

Why did she decide to do this? It is not because I told her to do it. She realized that while watching movies in English with French subtitles, she was not actually listening to the voices of the movie characters. She was reading the subtitles only. Therefore, it really made no difference that the movie was in English. She was focusing only on the French.

Although it might appear from the outside that she was "spending quality time watching movies in English," in fact, what she was doing wasn't helping at all.

On Monday, she made the decision to stop using subtitles in French. After only a few weeks of classes, I can already tell that Ana is going to be one of our most successful students because she is willing to make these little changes to her lifestyle that many students unfortunately are not willing to make.  I am so excited to watch her improve with her listening and general confidence in English because of this decision!



Want to lose your crutch? Here's some advice:


  • Choose short sitcoms rather than long movies: If you are going to disable the subtitles in your native language, you need to be sure you don't get discouraged. The point of watching TV is entertainment after all. It can't become like a chore. So choose short 30-minute sitcoms like Friends, Grey's Anatomy, Sex and the City, whatever you like, instead of long movies.
  • Focus on the big picture and don't worry about the details: The truth is, you are not going to understand 100% of what you hear without the subtitles. You need to accept that. Don't be a perfectionist! Try to get the main idea of what's going on in the storyline and then fill in any details that you can figure out.
  • Discuss the episode with a native speaker after: You must have friends who are native English speakers! They will come in handy here. Decide that Tuesday night is TV night with your friends and watch the shows together, then talk about what happened. They will help you fill in the details.
  • Watch the episode again a few days later and try to get more details: If you have the time, go back and fill in the details on your own. The first time you watched, you got the main idea, now you can figure out the specifics. You will also learn new words and expressions that you didn't hear the first time.


Are you willing to make this small change to your daily routine to see real progress in your English fluency? Start slowly! If you watch your favorite program five terms per week, try disabling the subtitles 3 times per week. Good luck and let us know how it works for you!


By the way, we will soon be releasing a new mobile app game to help you finally learn phrasal verbs the fun way! Click on the button below if you want to be the first to know when it becomes available!






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Photo credits: sashafatcat, _rockinfree, espensorvik

Topics: Advice for English Students, How to Learn English

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