The #1 thing you need to know about subtitle freedom

Jul 5, 2017 | listening tips | 0 comments

Are you making this mistake when it comes to getting subtitle free?


Most learners of English are.


What is it?


Just listening and hoping to understand.


So what’s a better solution?


You need to learn how to understand.


If you’re “just listening” and hoping for the best, you’re not to blame.


Let’s face it – listening is one of the most under taught concepts out there.


Most teachers (including a past version of myself) just:  


  • play some tracks from the coursebook CD (or tape if you’re an “old millennial” like me)
  • ask you some comprehension questions
  • move on to some grammar exercises


Nobody teaches you how to listen. And if they do give you advice on listening, it’s simply to listen more. That’s a good start. But that alone isn’t enough.


Why Should I Bother When I Can Just Listen?


I know it’s tempting to just spend hours listening to English every day and let the magic happen. I’ve even heard of people learning languages this way.


But have you got hours to spend in front of the TV?


What’s a better path to subtitle freedom?


Instead Of Just Listening, Do Something: 


  • Listen to sections you find tough with and without the subtitles. You need to know what you’re missing and why.



  • Discover how these words change when they link together or when sounds disappear.


  • Follow one show closely until you’re comfortable with it.


  • Once you get to 80%, then you can go subtitle free. If you can just get the main ideas (40-70%) then you need some support.

Why Do These Listening Techniques Work? 


Our brains function in 2 distinct modes: diffuse and focused. Veronika has a lovely article about this (told you her writing in English was good didn’t I?).


When you make an effort to understand what you watch, you balance your time between these 2 modes.  


Diffuse Mode


This is when you just listen and don’t focus on catching every single word. Or repeating them to perfect your pronunciation.


Focused Mode


This is where you get into the details and do the repetitive work like


  • dictations
  • listening for the details
  • repeating sections
  • recording yourself


You see, practice doesn’t always make perfect.


Because when you just practice and you don’t go into detail, you’ll always complain about needing the subtitles.  


When you combine passive listening and active listening tasks, you get to subtitle freedom faster.


Why It’s All Worth It In The End


Let’s get real here. I guide my readers and students through some tough times. And I admit:


  • Yes, it’s painful to realise that after years of learning English, you struggle to catch basic words.
  • Yes, it’s hard to re-listen with the subtitles and realise you still can’t catch bits.   
  • Yes, it’s tough to practice your pronunciation, record yourself and listen back to it.


But, when you get organised and commit to working on sections of a series every week, you notice the evolution in your listening abilities.


You can start to experiment with turning the subtitles off for certain scenes. Then you can let your eyes as well as your ears do some of the work.


Once you can catch 80%, you’ve got enough to understand the scene.


Then you can sit back, turn the subtitles off and finally start enjoying the series. Almost like you would in your native language.


  • You can see if the actors are doing a good job or not – are their gestures and facial expressions realistic?
  • You can admire the special effects, camera work and scenery:  
    • Daenerys’ dragons in Game of Thrones
    • The recreation of past times in period dramas like Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice
    • The cinematic camera angles and effects in Breaking Bad
  • You can get to the end of the film or episode feeling energised not exhausted from reading subtitles and trying to listen at the same time.
  • The subtitles become your friend, not your enemy, as they support you in scenes you found tricky.


Want My Help To Get Subtitle Free?

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Fed up of watching movies with subtitles?

Feel nervous before you talk to a native speaker in case you don’t understand them?

“Movies on the Run” is an audio course that teaches you 10 English listening secrets that will help you understand native speakers when they talk fast.

Plus, you discover famous movies and the quotes that have become part of everyday speech and culture so you can fit in better. Find out more about Movies on the Run.

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