Abstract: to practice, not only for the professional practice


This study conveys the efficiency of the subtitles as a tool for increasing the
vocabulary knowledge in Iranian EFL learners accomplished at IranMehr Language institute
in Tehran, Iran. The participants were 60 intermediate EFL female students
between the ages of 18 and 20. Participants were determined into
two experimental and control groups, a first class received subtitled movies
and the second class movies
without any subtitles. The
experimental group watched two movies
with English subtitles according to
the level of that class and the control group again watched those movies
by turning off the Subtitles. Both
groups practiced for a total of twenty two and half hours (5 weeks, 4.5 hours
each). Data were investigated and in order
to find the differences between the groups. As the results showed, the findings showed that
participants in the experimental group with subtitled movies
performed significantly better and learned
more new vocabulary considered to the control group.


Key words: vocabulary
learning, subtitling, oral comprehension, Visual Imagery or Movies

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Recently, there has
been an increasing study
in Audiovisual Translation (AVT) and its many applications: subtitling, audio
description, live subtitling and dubbing. Subtitling is quite one of the most
studied AVT modes from theory to practice, not only for the professional
practice and training but also for literacy and language learning (Lertola,

Applying movies to improve the acceptance of new vocabulary
is paid more attention by many researchers. Additionally, so many researchers believe
that movies seem to provide a full context for new vocabulary learning (Danan,
2004). The
interests of the subtitling practice have been also recognized to be efficient
in translator training (Neves 2004). Vocabulary learning is studied as one of
the most important skills in learning a foreign language because it has an efficient
role in developing foreign language skills such as speaking and reading.

According to Zhang,
learners prefer the future of learning vocabulary in the process of applying
them in contexts and do not like learning vocabulary only by rote memorization
(2009). The current study discusses the influence of the subtitling on
vocabulary learning in Iranian
EFL learners. This study can be determined as quasi-experimental, due to the
presence of both experimental and control groups carried out at IranMehr Language
Institute in Tehran, Iran. The result of this study will be useful for EFL
learners who are into finding various ways of learning vocabulary.

Review of the
Related Literature

Using a language,
either the first or second, has as its target to communicate ideas, preserving social
relations, and creating discourse, all which requires many various core
competencies (Plass, 2005). Some of these competencies include reading, speaking,
writing and listening, all important factors in the process of learning a
language. The use of multimedia, notably audiovisual material can fulfill some,
but not all, of these criteria. While one could argue for audiovisual material’s potential in the
English-speaking classroom, one must not overestimate its value as a basis for
teaching, entirely relying
on such material to cover all fields language teaching contains. However, it is correct to state that
role, both in general society, but also in the premise of the school, has
become more prominent in the past decades.

According to Krashen’s
input hypothesis, people can get a second language “only if they obtain
comprehensible input” (Krashen, 1985, p. 4). In fact, “authentic videos can be
difficult for the average student, but they can understand the language with
the help of subtitles, either by creating them or by having them previously visible
on the screen” (Talaván, 2010, p. 295).

Zimmermann (1997) calls
vocabulary “… central to languages and of critical importance to the typical
language learner (p. 5). All over the nineteenth century, vocabulary was taught
through etymology and definitions, much due to the connection between them.
Later on, the grammar translation method, involving preparation of students to
read and write classical materials and to pass standardized exams was always predominant.
Grammar and vocabulary teaching have been the center of second language
learning, because they are the most principle elements of a language; one
considering form and the other content. Among various types of linguistic
knowledge that organizes successful reading comprehension, grammar and
vocabulary have received major attention in linguistic study. (Zhang, 2012, p. 558) If we
accept that grammar and vocabulary are foundations of language comprehension,
it becomes pivotal to measure these two factors to illustrate to some degree
the language proficiency within subjects.

There are also many studies
that focused on the effects of subtitles on understanding in reading, listening
and vocabulary acquisition. These studies aimed to consider whether subtitled videos
or TV programs are more efficient than non- subtitled ones (Baltova, 1999;
Danan, 1992, 2004). The general findings of these studies supported the common belief
that subtitles are powerful instructional tools in learning vocabulary and
improving reading and listening comprehension skills of language learners.
However, according to Winke, Gass, and Sydrenko (2010), it is difficult to
generalize the findings of the studies reviewed above for at least two reasons:
“First, several studies did not group subjects by proficiency levels; second,
the types of tests used to measure the effects of language learners’ processing
of captions varied widely” (p.67).

In Neuman and
Koskinen’s (1992) study, it was found that young learners of English could accidentally
learn vocabulary from watching subtitled English language videos. Similarly, in
d’Ydewalle & Van de Poel’s (1999) study, young learners of French and Danish
were able to learn vocabulary from captioned videos; however they didn’t pay any
attention to the language before or during the video viewing. In a study
conducted by Koolstra & Beentjes (1999), even when the videos weren’t
captioned, children told to ‘just watch’ authentic videos were still able to
acquire new foreign language vocabulary.

                 More particularly, the present study will answer the following study question: Do applying English
subtitled movies have an explicit effect on the vocabulary knowledge improvement?


This study is a quasi-experimental study and includes a pre and
post-test. Two movies which had English subtitles were devoted to the
experimental group, but to the control group those movies were assigned without
any subtitles. Furthermore, 20 vocabulary items were chosen.

Generally, according to
Mayer (1999), one of the main principles in using multimedia in learning is to
place words close to corresponding pictures on a page or present narrations
concurrently with corresponding animations. Most of the target words were
appeared in movies more than once. Both groups were given the same pre and
post-test on the target vocabulary words but the format was various. The
listening ability and improvement in the post-test of the participants were
also considered. As the experiment requires students to watch and listen, it is
obviously believed that there is a close relationship between reading and

The subjects were 60
intermediate EFL female students between the ages of 18 and 20 at IranMehr
Language institute. Students were assigned to two groups according to their
class schedule; this resulted in 30 students in the experimental group (EG) and
30 in the control Group (CG). An initial questionnaire was also given to find
out the students’ background as well as TV-watching habits, in terms of
subtitled or dubbed material and their previous learning experiences; the
questionnaire contained eight closed-ended questions. The questionnaire shows
86% of the students watched FL movies, 52% of those frequently watched subtitled
movies and 24% frequently watched both dubbed and subtitled movies.

Besides, 58% of the
participants had previous translation experience and 87% of them believed that
translation helps language learning. Finally, 54% had experienced audiovisual
material in the FL class and most of them (94%) believed that audiovisual material
helps language learning.

The first group which
was named as an experimental group, 30 learners who watched the movies by
employing subtitled movies; while control group were not received any subtitle during
the treatment. In order to identify the effect of movies and use of English
subtitles on the learners’ vocabulary improvement, vocabulary pre and
post-tests were administered during the study
to the learners. Each of the tests was consisted of 20 matching items and
English vocabulary with their meaning in Farsi or synonyms. Each test was
applied before and after training and exposing the learners to the movies. The
reliability of each test was in order to KR-21 formula. At the end of each
class a vocabulary post-test was distributed to both groups and the results
were considered to find the effects of using subtitled cartoons in vocabulary

Design and procedure

The data collection
tool utilized in this study, VKS, is concerned with the descriptions of stages
that words pass through. A vocabulary knowledge scale (VKS) developed by Wesche
& Paribakht (1996) was applied as this scale is process-oriented and
compatible with the view that vocabulary acquisition is a continuum of development.

A pre-test – post-test
experiment and group framework was used as a research design in the study. The
participants were randomly assigned to each group. In group A (the subtitle group),
participants watched movies with the English subtitles and in Group B (the no-subtitle
group) participants watched without subtitles. Both groups were given the same pre-
and post-tests. Table 1 illustrates the design of study.

Table1. Design of the




VKS is given to both groups

Group A (cartoons with subtitles)

VKS is given to both groups

Group B (cartoons without subtitles)


The administration of
the tests and treatments was done in the computer lab, where participants often
watch movies and videos in English in other classes. An LCD projector and a
laptop were available for the treatment in the lab. The free software Km
Player, a media player that has the facility to incorporate subtitles into the
moving picture, was utilized to play the movies.

As it is obvious, this study was conducted in the specified
class times in English Institute in Tehran. Randomly, the participants were classified
into two groups after making them homogeneous by employing a placement test.
One class was asked to watch cartoons by turning the subtitles on while the
other class named as control group watched the cartoons by turning the
subtitles off. During the treatment in each session, the researcher and
participants devoted 60 minutes to watch the cartoons, practicing new words and
pausing the movies while new words were shown, also discussing about that
important parts of the cartoons with general words. Furthermore, after some
sessions working on the learners which were exposed with English subtitles movies,
the teacher took a vocabulary test consisting of 20 writing the definitions
items. During the process teacher used many techniques to teach new vocabulary
items; for example, giving synonyms and antonyms of a word or asking students
to look up the new vocabulary in a dictionary, demonstration, and etc. After
practicing and revising the new vocabulary items, a discussion was held with
the learners about the theme of the movies. The teacher asked some questions
fostering learners to use new vocabularies which they have learned to answer.
Finally, the results of the tests were considered to each other to know the
importance of subtitled movies.

Data Analysis
and Results

Consequently, after
administrating the test, each group’s mean scores were calculated. Then, movies
with and without subtitle were employed in experimental and control classes.
Besides, the researcher applied descriptive statistics to find the mean,
standard deviation, and range of scores.

Finally, the results of
tests, by using SPSS software made clear that which is more helpful for
learners in responding to the questions considered to the other one.


Table2. Average
scores attained in each group.







Group Pretest






Group Posttest






Group Pretest






Group Posttest






Valid N



The development in each
group was calculated through t-test. Participants in Group A improved on an average
of .34127 from pre-test to post-test while those in Group B (the subtitles
group) progressed by .1111 approximately.

Table 3: The summary of t-test results
for the gains between two groups (Independent Samples Test).






Sig. (2-taied)


Std. Error

95 %
Interval of


























According to the
findings of the study, both Group A (the subtitle group) and Group B (the
no-subtitle group) had important gains from pre-test to post-tests in the
self-reported Vocabulary Knowledge Scales. When the gains of two groups were considered,
the participants in Group A, who watched movies with subtitles, were found to
improve a bit more than those in Group B, who watched without subtitles (Group
A= .34127, Group B=.11111). However, there was no important difference between
groups in terms of gains. Thus, what facilitated the improvement in vocabulary
knowledge was not the incorporation of subtitles into the movies. At this
point, it might be posited that the movies increased the vocabulary development
of participants.

The previous study properties the vocabulary
development of students to their being exposed to the target words in a particular
context (in subtitled cartoons). Nation and Waring (1997) point out that it is
one of the most important vocabulary learning strategies and an essential part
of any vocabulary learning program. Since the participants were not informed
about the purpose of the study beforehand and were not allowed to use their
dictionaries during the treatment phase, they most probably took advantage of
this strategy with the help of contextual clues embedded in the movies. Based
on this fact, it is supposed that incidental learning of the vocabulary items
occurred due to the incorporation of target words into the movies that
functioned as a context, obviously a fundamental notion within the process of
incidental vocabulary learning (DeRidder, 1999). It is also preferred by
teachers since teaching words in isolation does not produce the desired

Besides, in table 1 and
2 and 3, it is clear that average of developing vocabulary knowledge by
employing English training movies with subtitle in experimental group is more
than control group, so experimental group after using English training movies with
subtitle significantly considered to control group without using subtitles is
noticeably prominent.  Therefore, the
differences between groups are statistically important and it means that the
groups with various trainings performed differently after receiving distinct
types of treatments.

Subtitled movies would also help
language learners expand their knowledge of vocabulary. All the tests which
were conducted separately were combined and considered as one single test, that
is, the mean for the two tests scores of each learner was calculated and then
the Independent Sample t-test was applied.

Discussion and

The result of this
study declares that subtitling is an efficient factor which has a high impact
on vocabulary learning. The results of the present study also support the
general idea that the students can acquire elements of a foreign language,
including vocabulary, through watching subtitled movies. As we discussed
earlier, the conclusion of this study
manifests that applying subtitled movies as educational tools in language
teaching environments can motivate learners to receive the language through
multisensory channels. Using subtitled movies would also help language learners
develop their knowledge of vocabulary. The role of captioned movies in
developing vocabulary has not been considered seriously in Iran. These findings
might encourage learners to devote more time to watching subtitled TV programs
including movies, movies in order to improve their overall language skills as
well as their vocabulary knowledge.

Subtitled movies would
also help language learners expand their knowledge of vocabulary. All the tests
which were conducted separately were combined and considered as one single
test, that is, the mean for the two tests scores of each learner was calculated
and then the Independent Sample t-test was applied.

The results of this
small study express that statistically important results emerge only at the
post-delayed point, i.e. the subtitling condition caused a more important L2
vocabulary retention considered to the non-subtitling condition. In other
words, the subtitling task proved to be positively influential in vocabulary
learning of Iranian EFL students rather than other tasks such as oral
comprehension and writing tasks.

Generally, this study supports the positive results
obtained in recent studies on the use of the subtitling practice as an efficient
pedagogical tool in the EFL classroom context, and it greatly encourages
further study on the

Thence it is better for
researchers to write more about subtitled method of acquiring target
vocabulary, though the present study
investigated the role of subtitled movies in promoting vocabulary knowledge in
a quasi-experimental method, inferences can be drawn from results of this study
are limited by the nature of the particular sample selected, which solely
consisted of intermediate students of an institution. Further study can also explore the use of
reversed or other ones by employing them, we can be familiar with the audio and
also visual form of vocabulary is proposed to be considered as further study.