The Birth Of Subtitling The English Language English Language Essay

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Since the birth of subtitling, the way subtitles have been created and presented on screen has gone through many changes, mainly due to the numerous developments in technology.

In the beginning, subtitles were created by two types of professionals, which are technicians in charge of spotting a film, and translators who wrote the subtitles.

The spotting of a film was done by defining the in and out times of the subtitles based on the beginning and end of the actors utters or the end of a take. These times were marked on the script and translators worked from it. They would attend a preview of the film and check on their subtitles later on.

The timing of the film is carried out by English native speakers, who produce a timed subtitle file in English. This file is then used for the basis of translation into all languages required in a movie release, a task carried out by native speakers of these languages.

The process of making subtitles started with intertiles, where texts, drawn or printed on paper, filmed and placed between sequences of the film. They were first seen in 1903. From 1909 onwards they were called subtitles. This is a manual projection of slides with printed texts directly onto the screen, but very soon , methods of copying photographed titles on to the film copy itself came into use. A frame containing the title was kept in position while the film negative and the positive print strip were fed forward and exposed. This was later made automatic.

In 1932, R. Hruska, an inventor in Budapest, and Oscar I. Ertnaes in Oslo simultaneously took out patents on an improved technique for impressing the titles directly on the film copies.

In the mid-1980s, the use of time codes and PCs was to revolutionise the process of subtitling and the profession of a subtitler achieved proper status in the industry.

The latest development is the use of lasers to burn away or vaporize the emulsion. This technique was developed by Denis AuboyerandTitra-Film in Paris and Brussels respectively.

In conclusion, the subtitler's role is interpretive. Viewers may not know the language at all and are hoping for the sense of the original, whether in its humour and pathos, tragedy and charm , romance and thrills. Hence subtitles allow audiences to share in the translators' discovery.



Subtitles have definitely evolved since its humble beginnings as inter-titles. With all the advancement in technology, there is no doubt that the standards of subtitles today are much better compared to the subtitles of yesteryears. However, they all serve to deliver similar purposes.

Primarily, subtitles in the language of the film indicate which words are being spoken. It allows the viewers to visualise what they hear thus resulting in better reception of the content of the conversation in the film. The visual cues and context make it possible to "view" the message as much as listen to it.

Subtitles also facilitate language learning by helping viewers to visualise what they hear, hence leading to language gains and improved comprehension. It provides instant feedback that reinforces the positive learning experience. This will eventually lead to better usage of the language and improve the vocabulary of the viewers. It enables the viewer recognise the words being spoken if they are unfamiliar with the word. The viewer would know how the word is spelled and would be able to refer to a dictionary.

Captions, as it is also known as, relieves some of the anxiety experienced by the viewers who sense they have missed element in the film and sometimes give up when they feel lost. Instead they are able to read the captions and understand what is going on in the scene. This is especially true for those who are multi-tasking. A person could continue running on the treadmill while still be able to understand the programme on the television.

Most importantly, subtitles translate dialogues from a foreign language to any other language, especially the native language of the audience.This would enable audience who do not understand the foreign language that is being spoken in the programme to understand the flow of the movie and relate to the scene being shown. This is also particularly beneficial for audience who wants to learn that particular language. For example, a student of the Latin language would gain new words and be reminded of previous words when the student watches a Latin film with subtitles in the students' native language. The student would be able to compare the words he/she heard with the subtitles on screen. This technique is much preferred to dubbing as it enables the student to hear the foreign language being spoken.

Subtitles may also serve as a source of humour. Below are a few examples:

~ In Scary Movie 4, there is a scene where the actors speak in faux Japanese, but the content of the

Subtitle is the "real conversation".

~ In Fatal Instinct, one scene involves two characters talking about their murder plan in Yiddish to

Prevent anyone from knowing about it, only to be foiled by a man on the bench reading the

on-screen subtitles.

A more revolutionary use of subtitles is in karaoke. This is applied when the singer just reads the subtitles which are actually lyrics to the song according to the background music playing. This is a more convenient way of singing the song rather than the singer holding a piece paper containing the lyrics to the song.

Captions are also useful if the viewer does not want to hear the conversation or the sound from the programme. For example, if a mother is trying to put her child to sleep, and she's trying to watch a show at the same time, she could just put the television in mute mode and let the subtitles do their work.

Subtitles are also very useful for those who are impaired in hearing. This would rule out the need for sign-language in the bottom corner of the screen as it would be considered to block the full view of the film. Instead the viewer could just read the subtitles and yet understand the flow of the film. However, the subtitles would also serve to support the sign-language should the viewer prefers the latter.

In some cases, the captions also describe the types of sound being heard. For instances:

~ Door creaks

~ Bell rings

~ Indication of words being sung

~ Intonation of voices e.g whispers, shouts, etc.

This reduces the dependency on relying on the audio input alone.

In addition, subtitling is a much cheaper form of translation compared to dubbing. Hence it is very widely used.


The usage of subtitles has its own positive effects in community, where it can helps to improve the listening comprehension skills of second-language learners. Besides that, the usage of subtitles can increase language comprehension and leads to greater depth of processing. For example, if a person has basic knowledge in Chinese language, he or she can improve the comprehension in Chinese language and also the practical usage of this language by watching movie or television programs that have subtitles. In facts, many Europeans learned English from their regular exposure to subtitled American films and television programs. The subtitles are more beneficial for the comprehension of details pertaining to characters and plot.

In addition, the usage of subtitles can help audience to retain the phonological information they had just processed. With this subtitles also, the audience will became more certain of ambiguous input, so they can understand the storyline more deeply. Plus, subtitles can form a more accurate memory trace of the words. So, audience can improve their actual language processing ability of second language.

Subtitles will encourage active understanding and help students organize new information into meaningful units. We can see one example, where in Belgium, may children speak and understand English language before they start learning English in formal way at school, presumably of their frequent exposure to English language subtitled from television programs. While, for adult, they view subtitles as an additional source of information allowing them to learn or maintain knowledge of foreign language, thanks to preference for subtitled programs.

In other case, the subtitles can help audience to enhance their language proficiency. Moreover, with subtitles, audience can increase their English vocabulary. Subtitles also will allow learners to grow more confident in ability to understand and direct their mental energy to actual learning. Other than that, subtitles can leads to significant improvement in listening skills as long as viewers learn to take advantages of relevant strategies.

Moreover, subtitles indirectly can boost speech learning about foreign language phonetics. Besides, the subtitles will exposed the audience to an unfamiliar foreign regional accent, thus, it will improve their speech understanding.

In conclusion, we can see many positive effects of subtitles in society, where the usage of subtitles can widen our vocabulary and also introduce audience to many languages. Indirectly, it will improve some skills, for instance, listening skill and also oral speaking skills.


Although there are many positive effect of subtitle, indirectly, the usage of subtitle also has negative effects that not many people realize of it. The most obvious negative effect is it takes away people attention from the actual spoken language of the movie used. This will eventually make the people simply read their native language without even listening to the foreign dialogue.

Moreover, subtitles are sometimes considered distracting towards the good foreign language users. The using of subtitle also accused to encouraging viewers to rely on the written text more to understanding what the movie all about, but unfortunately without realizing this action lead to the hinder of the development of receptive skill of the viewers.

Furthermore, when the subtitler the unusual foreign vowels and consonants may mismatch more with the native sound categories uses and it may even fail to match any of the native category. This will lead more to the misleading info about the phonological forms being spoken by the film if not interpreted properly. Native language subtitles help recognition of previously heard words but will also harm recognition of new words of the foreign language.

Besides that, by the usage of subtitles will made the visual input which is too far beyond the linguistic competency of the viewers that will yield more poor language gains by the viewers. This will also lead to the collision of two inputs that happen when both audio and visual channels have to process the input it gains simultaneously which will make some viewers experienced some difficulty to understand the film.

In addition, subtitles also do not contributing to the improvement of foreign language of the viewers but will lead more to poor language skill of the viewers. This is due to the immersion in a flow of the foreign utterances which lead to more less improvement of the viewers' language skill.

Other than that, sometimes subtitles also interpret the spoken language directly what the actor meant rather than how it is said by the spoken that may contain verbal padding and dialect of the film used. The dialogue also must be condensed in order to achieve an acceptable reading speed because sometimes the subtitle speed is too fast or too slow.

Besides the translation of the language by the subtitler through subtitles sometimes different from what the actor actually speak. This indirectly changes the meaning and understanding of the viewers about what actually the film story is all about.

Moreover, usually when the subtitler does subtitling, he or she actually just watches the film slowly and carefully by listening to the audio each sentence by sentence and then translate it to the local native language for the viewers to understand. However, some message that the film want to deliver may not reach the viewers the way it is because subtitles cannot convey 100% exactly the same with the actually spoken language by the actors in the film.


The first case study entitled Foreign Subtitles Help But Native-Language Subtitles Harm Foreign Speech Perception was conducted by HolgerMitterer and James M. McQueen. HolgerMitterer is a staff member at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguists in the Language Comprehension Group, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. James M. McQueen, while also affiliated to the institute, is also a member of the Behavioural Science Institute and Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Centre for Cognition, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. This study was published on PLoS ONE, an open access scientific journal by Public Library of Science in November 2009.

The objective of the study is to investigate whether subtitles, which provide lexical information, support perceptual learning about foreign speech. Lexical knowledge helps the listeners understand and adapt to the talker's unusual accent or speech. The study also tested the usefulness of subtitles to these adaptations.

The samplings were 121 participants from the subject pool of the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguists. They were native speakers of Dutch studying at the Radboud University Nijmegen, with good command of spoken and written English. They were divided into six groups of 20 participants. All of them watched either the Australian or the Scottish material, each presented with English, Dutch or no subtitles.

The participants, watched 25 minutes of video material containing either strongly-accented Australian English or strongly-accented Scottish English. In each situation, the groups had either English, Dutch or no subtitles. After this exposure, all six groups were asked to repeat back excerpts from both the Australian and the Scottish materials. The excerpts were phrases from the movies that were bounded by pauses. 80 excerpts were taken from the exposure materials while 80 excerpts were completely new, but from the same speakers. The latter is a measure of how well the listeners adapted to the accent during the exposure.

Based on the results, on the whole, English subtitles were associated with the best performance on both the new and old items. Although the Dutch subtitles did help, but it could not match the results of the English subtitles.

This second case study entitled Subtitle Translation Strategies as a Reflection

of Technical Limitations was researched by Ying Zhang &Junyan Liu. This study was published on Asian Social Science, an open access scientific journal by in January 2009.

The objective of the study is to looks at interface (subtitle) that occurs in the process of translating film dialogue from Mandarin Chinese into English, by using the case study of Ang Lee, a prominent Chinese film director in global film circles.

Based on the case study finding, subtitling is the key technique for facilitating communication with viewers and has been widely discussed about it uses, especially in comparison with the dubbing of film which is another way of mainstream method. Subtitling also has two main categories which is inter-lingual subtitling and intra-lingual subtitling.

The subtitle translation is a process that convert the verbal language into written text, and highly dependent on subtitling equipment to present the information to its viewers. Subtitle translators also need to follow strictly the regulations in mind when producing the subtitles. They also must adopt different strategies to avoid breaching the constrains and also to meet the requirements of their clients.

The subtitles of film Wo Hu Cang Long is compared with the six of its English subtitle versions from China including Hong Kong ,Taiwan, America and the Great Britain respectively have been compared and discussed.

Based on the results, we can conclude that subtitles translation is indeed different from literary translation. Producing a new subtitles is very difficult because it need very good language skill, precise timing, punctuation and others conventions.

Moreover, subtitlers also need to take account of other factors in relation to language and culture in order to send the information to the target audiences. Therefore, making subtitles is not an easy job because it need a high precision, accuracy and knowledge.

The third case study is conducted by Chia-jung Tsai from National Changhua University of Education, Taiwan. The title of this case study is "Insight into Learners' Perspectives on Watching Movies with L1(First Language) vs. L2(Second Language) Subtitles : Focusing on Language". This case study was published in July 2008.

Before conducting this case study, Chia-jung Tsai has work together with Shenghui Cindy Huang, both from National Changhua University of Education, Taiwan, in a research also regarding about subtitles, entitled "Target Subtitles for Comprehensible Film Language Input" . The main focus for this study is language.

The objective of this study is not to focus on how subtitles help in improve the comprehension of viewers towards the movie, but, the main objective is to examine the viewer's gain in terms of language, particularly the vocabulary, pronunciation, oral abilities and listening skills in the second language that is used as subtitles. Besides that, this study also want to prove that the usage of second language subtitles is more beneficial compared to the usage of first language subtitles. This study proposed that the viewer of movie can improve their skills in their second language, such as listening skill, oral ability, vocabulary and pronunciation by watching movie with that language as the subtitles.

To conduct this study, 45 non-English majors from one of the university in Taiwan is tested in General English Proficiency Test (GEPT) elementary level listening practice test to identify the participant's listening proficiency. GEPT is a test that have been developed by LTTC (Language training and Testing Center), a nationwide used test for examining the English proficiency of a particular student. For this study purpose, only listening proficiency is being assessed. In this listening proficiency test, there are 30 questions. The total score was 120, and the passing benchmark is 80. The result is, 20 lower-intermediate participants get scores between 72 to 108. Then, these 20 participants is divided into two groups:

Group 1: The first language subtitles (English movie with Chinese subtitles)

Group 2: The second language subtitles (English movie with English subtitles)

After that, both of these groups have to watch a movie. The movie selected is an animated movie "Over The Hedge" produced by Dreamworks in 2006. After watching this movie, both groups will be provides with question sheets. Each participant need to answer the question by writing down their opinion and thoughts about the pros and cons of watching English movie with Chinese subtitles for Group 1 and with English subtitles for Group 2, in terms of listening comprehension of the language used in the movie, vocabulary learning, pronunciation and oral abilities. With this measurement, we can identify which language is more beneficial to be used as subtitles, whether first language or second language.

In conclusion, the study have figure out both of the language can have advantages and disadvantages, but for the lower-intermediate, the usage of second language is more beneficial. However, the usage of first language as subtitles also can help in improving the listening skills, pronunciation and oral abilities.


Alvin and the Chipmunks have been around even before some of us were born so that just goes to show that they've been in our hearts for quite some time. The film isn't their first, but it is easily their best yet.

The story is about a down on his luck musician and three singing chipmunks. Dave Seville, played by Jason Lee, is just about to give up on his career as a song writer when he found three orphaned baby chipmunk siblings. Much to his surprise and good fortune, they just happen to be amazing singers and dancers.

Hence, Dave brings them back home, never imagining the havoc that they are about to cause. Yet they are amazing singers and together they manage to produce wonderful songs. Yet as in the real world today, the chipmunks, symbolising young talented musicians, are exploited by a record company interested only in their ability to generate cash.

This makes the chipmunks stressed and become victims of a money-crazy industry trying to milk every dollar out of them. Fortunately for the guys, Dave is there to save them and prevent the chipmunks from destroying themselves.

The only drawback in the film is the casting of Jason Lee, whom seems to be the weakest link in the movie. His acting style definitely suits his popular sitcom My Name Is Earl, yet it just does not fit into this heart-warming tale of family and unity. Cameron Richardson who plays Claire gave agood performance as the curious and lovely girlfriend of Dave. Yet it does not truly show her potential and is very laidback.

This movie does certainly have a continuous flow about it. The director, Tim Hill has done well in capturing the right moments in the film in the right way.

On the whole, the film is a heart-warming and a must watch for the fans of the chipmunks.


When 2012 first hit the screens, many of us thought, "Oh, no. Not another disaster movie." But this is not just another disaster movie, this is one based on an actual Mayan prediction.

The director of 2012, Roland Emmerich definitely did his homework on ancient history as we were revealed to in a movie an ancient Mayan prediction about the Earth's expiry date on December 21st 2012. Amazingly enough, this date coincides with the Galactic Alignment determined by renowned scientists.

The movie revolves around two characters, Jackson Curtis played by John Cusack and Adrian Helmsley, played by ChiwetelEjiofor. The story starts when an Indian scientist realises that the Erath's crust is beginning to heat up following a solar eruption. He then informs Adrian Helmsley who gives the detail to President Thomas Wilson, acted by Danny Glover. Jackson Curtis on the other hand is the everyday guy with amazingly good luck. He is a divorcee with two kids and takes them camping in Yellowstone National Park. Strangely, he finds that the military has set up base there. There he meets Adrian Helmsley and a conspiracy-theory radio host, played amazingly by Woody Harrelson. He finds the map of arks built in China to save people from the impending disaster.

As the Earth begins to crumble and fall apart, we are able to see the development of characters in the story. In the end, as expected all the main characters surviveas a new era dawns on mankind.

Overall, the special effects were really something to look forward to especially the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio taking a tumble and an awful crack appears in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, running directly between the fingers of man and God. Perhaps this symbolises that God has forsaken us, maybe not. The scores were also appealingto the scene especially in the scene where California was crumbling apart.

The characters in the movie were somewhat predictable. The everyday man who survives, a noble scientist trying to save mankind, the power-crazy government guy and the American President who is devoted to his country and would not leave it even if it would cost him his life. Yet they were played wonderfully by the cast as the simple and confused acting of John Cusack fits perfectly with the large plot of the movie.

On the whole, this movie is a must watch as many directors are now going with apocalypse as the ultimate villain theme. For those who love to figure out how the world will end, this is one that is not one to miss.


Based on careful analysis and intense discussion, we have come to the conclusion that the movie with the same language subtitle does improve our understanding of the movie. This is due to several factors.

The first factor is we can actually know the words that are being uttered by the actor. More often than not, sometimes we can barely hear what the actor is trying to say. This is also true when the background music is so loud that the conversation is barely audible. There arealso instances where we found the actor talking too fast. This is important so that the audience can actually understand the flow of the movie. The easiest example of unclear speech is in Alvin and the Chipmunks. The part where the chipmunks sing is very difficult to understand because the words are not very clear. This creates confusion in the viewer's part in understanding what the chipmunks are actually singing about.

Next, we might not be familiar with the accents of people from different regions of the world. Being Malaysian for example, we are only used to the Malaysian way of speaking English, that is with the 'lah' and the addition of 'ing' to Malay words which describes action. This will enlighten us on the way certain words are being pronounced in different accents.

Although the Malay subtitle does improve our knowledge on the English language it does not help in our understanding of the movie. Instead, we will rely totally on the translation to try to understand the movie. Many times there were situations when the subtitles were too fast to be read. This situation would definitely result in the audience giving up on trying to understand the movie.

Another disadvantage of having Malay subtitles is the translation of the dialogue may not be totally correct. This occurs mainly in low quality translations. This will result in confusion from the audience. Poor quality translations are the major cause of misunderstanding of the flow and the plot of the film. In the English translations, even if there is a contrast between the spoken words and the translations, the audience would know the correct words spoken. Hence, this makes the English translation more reliable.

Sometimes, there are unfamiliar words spoken by the actor which may confuse the audience. The English subtitles are more useful compared to the Malay subtitles in this case. This is because we are able to receive the word audio-wise and visually. This will enable us to just grab a dictionary and find out what the word mean. The Malay subtitles may not be reliable in this case because the subtitles translate the whole sentence instead of only the word. Hence another word can be used to fit into the sentence so that it is grammatically correct. Hence, there is not always a direct translation in the Malay subtitles.

As a whole, the English movie with the English subtitle will help in making us understand the movie better. Although the English movie with the Malay subtitle will improve our knowledge on the language, it will retard our understanding of the movies as they make us rely heavily on the on the translation. Hence the English movie with English subtitles helps with the understanding of the film.


As a whole, the subtitle of a movie improves our command of the English language. With the usage of subtitle, we can improve some skill in language such as pronunciation, listening skills, and vocabulary. As we took a deep look at previous case studies, many researchers agree that subtitles really help on understanding and mastering foreign language.

In addition, the subtitles allow us to understand what people with different accents are actually saying. This enables the viewer to gain knowledge on the variety of ways a word can sound like. Plus, we can be introduced to the new foreign pronunciation.

Apart from that, subtitle also provides us with what sound is being heard in the background. For instance door creaks, engine starting and such. Hence the viewers would not be confused by the diversity of sounds in the movie. At the same time, viewers can increase their understanding of the movie.

Besides that, subtitles can help people who watch the movie to understand the plot of the story, and overall understand the movie, even if the movie is not in their mother tongue language. This is because the viewer can read the subtitle of what the actor in the movie converse.

However, there are also some negative effects with the usage of subtitle in movie. For example, when the subtitle mismatches with what is being spoken by the actor in movie or the subtitler produce the inaccurate subtitle due to the different dialects used in movie. Thus, this make viewer become confuse or get a wrong view of what the story is about.

In conclusion, subtitles have more pros compared to cons. It depends on the individual itself to decide to use subtitle in movie or not to use it. And most importantly, viewers need to choose the best and correct subtitle to be used in movie so that they will not misinterpret the true meaning of the movie.