Update (12/03): Event has been cancelled by organiser.
A public talk on 'The role of First Language (L1) and Second Language (L2) subtitles in Second Language speech processing: Can subtitles help learners improve their listening skills?' will be held around the M.A. dissertation in Applied Linguistics and TESOL by Sarah Agius (University of Leicester, 2019).
This study explored the use of first language (L1-subs) and second language (L2-subs) subtitles as a tool for intermediate to upper-intermediate (B1/B2 CEFR) adult learners of English, and the extent to which they can help them improve their listening skills.
Two main research questions were asked: Do L1/L2 subtitles help learners in retaining audio information better? and Do L1/L2 subtitles help learners in improving their speech processing skills?
A secondary research question asked: Do L1/L2 subtitles help learners in the global comprehension of audio-visual material? An online experiment was run with 18 adult German learners of English at B1/B2 CEFR level.
It tested each participant under three conditions; German Subtitles (Ger-subs), English Subtitles (Eng-subs) and the control measure, No Subtitles (No-subs). 5 minute video clips taken from three different American TV series were used. Three post-watching, audio-based tasks followed each video, using snippets taken from the 5 minute clip (old) for Tasks 1 and 2. For Task 3, additional snippets (new) taken from the same character but from other parts of the series were used. Each task was designed to answer one of the questions posed in this study.
Findings show that both L1- and L2-subs can help learners in the global comprehension of audio-visual material with little to no difference between using either (Task 1). However, participants performed better at recalling audio snippets from the 5 minute clip under the L2-subs condition (Task 2). L2-subs also helped participants when asked to listen and write down what they heard in both old and new audio snippets (Task 3).
However, the observed general tendency was that participants performed better when hearing old snippets. Furthermore, they performed better with new snippets under the L2-subs condition. Results suggest that L2-subs are a good tool which not only helps learners in global and immediate comprehension but also helps learners to tune in to the audio, helping them in processing speech better and therefore helping them perform better in subsequent listening tasks.
This study shows that L2-subs can help learners improve their listening skills not only of speech which they have already heard but also which is new to them, when coming from the same speaker. They can at least do this in the short-term. Further and longitudinal research is needed to investigate whether watching subtitles in L2 helps learners in their speech processing skills in the long-term.