Subtitles are a small barrier that make movies and TV shows accessible to everyone — it should be commonplace to use them.

While watching a show or movie, it’s easy to miss important words that are essential to the plot. Sometimes there can be a language barrier if the dialect is different from one’s native language. Subtitles are helpful options that can prevent confusion and help viewers understand what’s being communicated. 

Any kind of caption translating spoken words to text can be beneficial for viewers in different ways. Captions can improve viewers reading, writing and vocabulary skills, according to a research study in the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Subtitles, primarily used for foreign film translations, can also help people improve one's second-language literacy.

A study conducted by Tabriz University of Medical Sciences in Iran looked at students' performances on tests when exposed to English subtitles. In its findings, the group of students exposed to subtitles performed significantly better than students who weren’t. Zane Education, an online learning service for students K-12, provides beneficial research on subtitles’ impact on students, which found improvements in word identification and reading comprehension.

Aside from the cognitive benefits that captions and subtitles provide, there are also simple benefits that can enhance one's experience with what they’re watching. They can help viewers if they’re trying to watch something in a noisy setting and aren’t able to hear. If one’s in a public setting and isn’t able to use sound on a video, one can use subtitles to know what’s going on. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may also use subtitles to engage with different content. 

Subtitles are a substitute for dubbing, which is when an audio track of one language is placed on a film that was filmed in another language. If a foreign film is dubbed, it can create discrepancies between the way the actor’s mouths move and what’s coming out of them. Subtitles can work better because there isn’t any misalignment and only involves reading the text that’s displayed. 

If one refuses to watch a film or show only because it’s in a different language, they’d be shutting their minds off to a vast selection of content due to a language barrier that can be fixed with subtitles. Engaging with media from other countries can be eye-opening and allow people to dive into new stories based on cultural experiences they never knew about. It can help others learn about other cultures and gain new perspectives on lives different than theirs.

Creativity is abundant in every nation, and foreign films open doors to new plots that haven’t been remade or overdone. They’re able to show people new settings and new actors that aren’t in the same five films. 

There’s new material to be exposed to and learn from in a foreign film, and a language barrier shouldn’t be the element that makes someone refuse to watch one. “Parasite” director Bong Joon-ho said it best during his Golden Globe’s speech for Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language: “Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Joanna Sommer is a junior media arts and design major. Contact her at sommerjj@dukes.jmu.edu.