Learning Languages through Subtitles?

I saw and enjoyed Amelie dispite the fact that Audrey Tautou’s eyes in this movie poster really creeped me out.

I don’t enjoy watching foreign films with subtitles.  I’m almost always glad that I did, but it’s work for me — and I usually go to the movies to relax.  There is also, I’m sure, some discomfort associated with my not being a successful foreign language student when I was in school, doing only slightly better in Latin than in French and Spanish classes.  ..and references to my fairly severe hearing difficulties probably provide more consolation to me than a real excuse for my academic failures.  Never really had to listen to Latin.

But I remember a conversation at one of the foreign language teachers conferences I’ve spoken at about how immigrants are developing their English language skills by switching on the closed caption feature of their TVs — and that’s the memory that surfaced when I learned about AnySubs.  It’s a collaborative archive of files that provide subtitles for movies, operating along side the movie file.  Here’s how it works.

  1. You go to AnySubs, and type the title, or a string from the title of the movie you wish to read along with.  I happened to have an MP4 of Mary Poppins in an external hard drive.  With the proper number of Ps, I find an entry for the 1964 movie and learn that it got a 7.6 user rating from IMDb.
  2. Clicking the entry, I learn that there are two English subtitle files and one in Finish.  One of the English files might be used by students with hearing deficiencies, but pretending I’m teaching Finish to my high schoolers, I click that entry and then click Download.
  3. The subtitle downloads are compressed.  One I ran across last night was zipped (.zip), but this one is compressed in Roshal ARchive, or RAR (.rar) format.  Fortunately, Stuffit Expander handles it flawlessly. Although there are others, the subtitle decompressed files I’ve downloaded were in SubRip format (.srt).
  4. After that, the process is simple, though I had to do some research to learn it — as the AnySubs site seems to be fairly Windows-centric.
  5. The movie file (most formats seem to be workable) and the subtitles file must be in the same folder or directory, and they must have the same filename — except for the extension.  Several movie players seem to support subtitles, but not QuickTime, at least from my experiments.  So I re-acquired VLC, a cross-platform open source media player that handles a wide array of video and audio formats.  Opening the movie file with VLC, the Finnish subtitles automatically appear, as I watch one of my children’s favorite childhood movies.

Now I can imagine developing my skills in this language (after mastering the vowels) by watching familiar movies and TV shows and making myself read the captions — or finding a Finnish film and applying English subtitles.  But I suspect that language teachers can come up with some creative ways to use this.

What do you think?

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Tweeting from History

Account of an examination of Wolfgang Mozart as a seven-year-old seeking to determine qualities of a child prodigy.

I’ve written about two organizations who have utilized Twitter to share important occurances and the thoughs of important figures in history, essentially pretending to be those people or observers of those events and tweeting their experiences in simulated real-time.

I got a number of comments and e-mails from history teachers explaining that although they could not work those specific projects into their highly scheduled curriculums, they thought that it was an amazing way to bring history alive.

It occurred to me, as I was responding to one of those comments the other day, that there is nothing about these projects that require the services and resources of an organization or association — that there isn’t any reason why a history (or science or other) classroom couldn’t do exactly the same thing — working it into the scope and sequence of their learning facilitations.

The not so insurmountable challenge is finding the material, and the Internet provides access to many primary source documents* — perhaps the most recent of which is the web-publication of papers from The Royal Society — which, according to a 30 November BBC article…

..grew out of the so-called “Invisible College” of thinkers who began meeting in the mid-1640s to discuss science and philosophy.

Its official foundation date is 28 November 1660 and thereafter it met weekly to debate and witness experiments. ((“The Royal Society Puts Historic Papers Online.” BBC News30 Nov 2009: n. pag. Web. 1 Dec 2009. .))

Among the publications in the Trailblazing web site are:

  • An article and drawing of an experiment to keep a dog alive by blowing air directly into its lungs with a bellows
  • Observations of a total eclipse of the Sun in April 1715
  • An article on using willow bark to treat fever
  • A letter from Benjamin Franklin to Mr. Peter Collinson, describing his (risky) attempts to show that lightning is a form of electricity by flying a kite into a storm.

So imagine having your students condense into 140 character messages their observations of a battery of tests administered to the musical prodigy, Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart of Saltzbourg, and the frustrations witnessed as the scientists could not seem to get the seven-year-old off of the stick he was riding around the room like a horse.  Imagine the fun your students might have and that of their readers as they put themselves in that room on 15 February 1770.

* Here is a link to the most recent web links stored on Delicious that were tagged with primarysources: