What Is Your Opinion On Learning Content In The Original Language Versus Content That Has Been Translated?

What I am talking about is where you have content that is in the foreign language and comes from that culture. For example, a Spanish movie about life in Spain. But the second type of content would be where you have a movie from the US that includes a dubbed foreign track of audio and subtitles. Of course, this same concept can be applied to books where it is a book in English that has been translated into Spanish or some other language versus simply choosing a book originally written in Spanish.

Now, ideally, I would like to find content in the original language and from that culture. However, I often times have trouble locating material or do not find the material compelling. Stephen Krashen believes that any read or seen material needs to be compelling to be effective for learning.

So to get compelling material for me, I will look at material I like from the US that has been dubbed or translated into a foreign language. For example, for tv and movies, I have been watching Game of Thrones in Spanish and for books, I have a mystery book about a family in the US that I will eventually get to. However, my concern is the material is translated so not as natural as material originally in the foreign language. So my question is how do you see this issue? Do you think compelling should trump benefits gained in grammar, and expression style of reading only with original language sources?

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I’ve wondered the same thing, but our main quest, and probably most difficult task, is to learn new words, so I don’t think it matters that much. So long as we also read and listen to native materials to get used to it’s structures and tendencies, I don’t see a problem.

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Two issues… One is to make sure that the accompanying audio is by a native speaker, then it will not make as much difference as to source of the text. With respect to the text, that would simply depend on the quality of translation. Bad translation will often sound awkward in the final product, but if you can hear that you are listening to quality translation, then all would be fine, right?

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There are actually some advantages to using translated/dubbed content as opposed to original. There may also be some drawbacks – more so with TV shows than books. When it comes to books, I think the drawbacks are negligible.

The majority of the books I’ve read and listened to in different languages have been translated – with some original titles mixed in there from time to time. I see no difference in language learning value between the two. From a standpoint of cultural content, yes, one could make the argument that original works will introduce you to the culture better, and that’s why I try to mix in original works.

I also watch a lot of dubbed Netflix shows in different languages. This is a great immersion exercise as a secondary activity – I consider reading and listening to books as a far better primary method.

It should also be pointed out that there is a difference in the cadence of dubbed dialog vs. original language dialog in TV and movies – but part of that difference makes dubbed dialog often easier to understand and therefore a good way of easing into foreign TV watching.

Bottom line: Read the books you wanna read in the language you want to read them. Then, as a secondary exercise, watch the shows you wanna watch in the language you want to watch them, and have fun.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Whether original native language materials are more effective for language learning will depend on what your goals are. That is, why do you want to learn Spanish to begin with?

I pose this question because language and culture are inherently intertwined. For all societies. Concepts and grammar shape and influence how native speakers view their world as well as how they express it. Inuit people have dozens of words for snow. For a reason. Other societies make distinctions that Americans don’t and vice versa for reasons that have to do with their environment, culture, and history.

If you only read/listen to materials originally created by Americans and translated into Spanish, what have you learned about Spanish or Latin American culture, sensibility, history, people? Language learning requires moving out of your native language and culture, out of the very comfort zone that profoundly shapes how you view, describe and experience the world. Learning a foreign language also requires not just translating specific words according to grammar rules and learning new vocabulary, but understanding the social settings in which phrases are uttered, when it is appropriate and fitting to say one thing and not another. Knowing another language well requires learning the cultural norms of another society. Spanish for example, uses a formal and informal “you” in singular as well as plural forms. How are you ever going to learn these distinctions and use them properly if you only read/listen to American books/movies since modern English only has one form of “you”?

I understand that reading American books and listening to American films in Spanish has an advantage in that you already know something about the plot and cultural background which makes things easier (you say “compelling”) to understand. However, if you are ever to truly understand Spanish and native Spanish speakers, I would encourage you read and listen to books and films that are originally IN Spanish as well. The Spanish-speaking world – which includes many countries – has diverse literature as well as films from which to choose. Do some research to find out what are popular contemporary authors and films in Spain as well as in Latin America.
If you want to speak with Spanish-speaking people, it would be helpful for you to learn something about their historical and popular culture as well. If you are only are interested in American culture, then why learn Spanish?


I agree with you for 90%.
I’d like to clarify only one point:
It’s OK to use some translations from your native language into the target language till the Intermediate level because you probably know the content of such movies or books and it can help you easier to understand them also in your target language.

But after that, you’d rather use the genuine stuff to know and deeper better the culture and the traditions of the new language and the country where it is spoken.

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I’m sorry, but I feel that it is this kind of purist approach that ends up discouraging a lot of language learners either at the early stages or later at the intermediate level. I’m not saying you’re wrong, your points are all valid, but they don’t necessarily align with the day to day realities of language acquisition – or language use.

First, you’re assuming we’re talking American content only. I’m currently listening to a Norwegian crime thriller in German and a book by a British author that takes place in France – which I’m listening to in French. In both cases, the translated language fits the content for me just fine. Next up will be a German original in German and a South African book in French. There is a lot of great translated and original content out there that’s not necessarily American – and does not necessarily lend itself to one language or another. (But yes, I do read French original books as well.)

Second, you bring up the particular issue of formal vs. informal “you.” Reading a translated American book is actually an EXCELLENT way of learning the distinction between the two. Translators put a lot of thought into which form to translate in what situation and if you’re familiar with American social interactions you get to see how these interactions get interpreted into other languages with formal and informal registers. This actually gives you a lot of information about your target language.

As I said in the previous post, there are certainly advantages of original content in the cultural context which you bring up as well and that is all fine and one should, by all means, seek out original content as part of their routine. For example, Netflix has been adding more and more international shows – I just started watching Babylon Berlin, a German series… after I watched Cloverfield Paradox in German. Which is pretty much exactly what you’d see on TV if you lived in Germany, a mixture of original shows and dubbed foreign content.

Which brings me to my ultimate point: use of language is not necessarily limited to one cultural context, and your example of the Spanish diaspora is a shining example of that! There are a lot of Americans whose native language is Spanish and live an omni-cultural existence that can claim both Mario Vargas Losa and Stranger Things as its own. In that day to day reality, the kind of cultural purity approach to “original language” content really doesn’t hold the same value from a language learning perspective.

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t harangue, I think that you’ve misunderstood my point. I wrote: “…I would encourage you to read and listen to books and films that are originally IN Spanish as well.” Note the last two words, “AS WELL” which means “in addition.” I did not recommend that anyone exclusively read or listen to material originally created in the target language. Certainly at the beginner and low intermediate levels, the learner is going up a steep learning curve to learn basic grammar and essential vocabulary.

I recognize from my own experience that reading “literature” in the target language at such levels is often too difficult unless it is in an “adapted” or “young adult” (that is, simplified) version. Personally, I have found that short newspaper or magazine articles in my target language about something that I already know serve as good transitional materials for me as an intermediate learner precisely because I already am familiar with the subject matter which helps with vocabulary.

I myself read foreign texts in languages other than their original (and not necessarily in English) precisely to keep up my knowledge of other languages. For example, I have read, “Voces de Chernobyl” (“Voices from Chernobyl”) in Spanish because I do not yet know Russian well enough to do so in Russian. Doing so in a language that I know fairly well – Spanish – provided me with an opportunity to practice Spanish while learning about the Chernobyl disaster from a celebrated Belorussian journalist who did interviews with the people who were affected. It was one of the most powerful books I have ever read even in Spanish so it more than met Krashen’s “compelling” standard.

I am thus not a “purest” but nevertheless do think that it is important to tackle materials in the original language precisely because they provide a cultural context which is inherent in any language. Again, I am not saying to do this exclusively. Nor am I saying that one should only read “literature” or see “art films.” To the contrary, any genre that one could be interested in undoubtedly has a counterpart in Spanish. I do encourage exploring this subject in Spanish and see how it is similar or different from the American form. (By the way, I say American because the original poster mentioned that he was looking at American materials.)

I also encourage an eclectic interaction with native materials from different Spanish-speaking countries as well as from the Spanish-speaking communities here in the US as there are considerable differences amongst them. Conversely to ONLY read and listen to materials that were not created in the target language – particularly at the intermediate and more advanced levels where one can dip into “authentic material”-- is to me, to miss essential features of the language and the people who speak it as their native tongue.

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Okay, I stand corrected then :slight_smile: Sorry, I get heated about this subject. I see a lot of attitude on forums and in real life, from people who either never learned a foreign language or think that anything below reading Proust or Dostoyevsky in their original language is not worth dignifying.

More importantly, I see people who get stuck at Duolingo level language learning because they listened to those voices from the previous group.

You’re obviously not in those categories, so, yeah, sorry if I was equating you with them. All the best!


This is the problem I am also having with Spanish and finding books I am glad that it does not matter if the content is translated or not.


This is an excellent question!

Back in the days when I was seriously learning German (i.e. during the time I was living there and in the first couple of years after returning to the UK) I was watching a lot of dubbed-to-German content on TV - Hollywood films and US crime drama shows, etc. Generally speaking, I would say that this is easier than ‘straight’ native content. A soundtrack produced in a dubbing studio is - almost without exception - going to be enunciated clearly in good standard diction. So there’ll be no slurred speech, mumbling, strong accents or general weirdness to get bugged by! (One exception is if they are dubbing a character with unusual speech - like Gollum in Lord of the Rings or Yoda in Star Wars. But that kind of thing is very much the exception rather than the rule.) And generally speaking there also won’t be snatches of regional dialect in a dubbed soundtrack - something which can also be a problem for foreign learners.

Equally important, perhaps, is that dubbed content directly renders English speech patterns and modes of thought. We are used to expressing ourselves in a certain way in English - the dubbed content gives a good close equivalent in German (or whatever language). This latter point holds good for literature too. When I first got into reading German I did start out with translations of English authors like Agatha Christie.

Of course, at some stage - after enough immersion - one is able to move to real-deal foreign language literature, films, etc.

The being said, to this day I still read English authors in German translation. Almost everything by John le Carré and Michael Ridpath that I have read, has been read in German! And just this week I ordered an old copy of a 1960s book by Gore Vidal in German. So once you get into the habit of doing this it can become a kind of charming eccentricity! :smiley:

One of the biggest advantages of going for translated content is knowing exactly what authors and stories you’d enjoy reading. Another is the easy availability of both native and target language editions for comparative reading. And the third is that the type of books that get translated into different languages also tend to have a higher likelihood of there being an audiobook version available.

I have noticed sometimes that target-language subtitles on English-language movies are rather simplified compared to the original. Likewise with some cheaply dubbed (pirated?) movies where they talk over the English rather than remove it (no need to have access to or to recreate the sound effects), Do you have any feel for how accurately and fully the dubbing mirrors the original when done more professionally?

Simple may be better if that’s where you are in your language acquisition, but if you need full native-level content, you’ll be guaranteed it in undubbed originals in the target language. There will always be constraints on the translator when they need to match dialogue speed with what’s on the screen. Translators of printed works have no such constraints, of course.

By the way, I’ve watched some excellent movies from all over the world that were dubbed or subtitled into my target language. In that way it’s been a great gateway to much more of the world’s culture than just that of its native country.

Glad to see you again, @Prinz_Skjegg!

I’m reading classic non-Russian children’s books in Russian at the moment (for example, Alice in Wonderland, Emil and the Detectives), and I’ve never felt that I was ignoring Russian culture by doing so. A lot is inherent in the expressions and idioms you find in the translation, and at a certain (intermediate) level of language-knowledge, that’s the main thing you experience in a text. Some of these books have even developed their own traditions as a part of Russian culture: Winnie-the-pooh, for example.

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Three things should be acknowledged when it comes to dubbing:

  1. Yes, there is an artificiality to the process and its use of language, cadence, etc. BUT,
  2. It is still content meant for native speakers of the target language and as such I consider it to be a valid way of practicing listening comprehension. The dubbed dialog must still correspond with the everyday use of the target language by its speakers – that’s the whole point of dubbing.
  3. Dubbed movie dialog actually has a way of shaping the current use of slang and colloquialisms in its target language. That means, that in the odd case that you hear a German line in a dubbed American movie that sounds like “improper German,” it will often be a catchphrase by next week :slight_smile:

Professional subtitles, by their nature, will be simplified at least somewhat – each line of subtitle needs to cover a certain number of seconds of screen time, and they need to do so within a certain number of characters. (So-called “fan subtitles” of course don’t have this requirement.)

Also, in a professional setting, the person writing the subtitles will be different from the person who has to translate or match the text to the dubbing dialog with the voice actors, so there will be inevitable differences between the subtitled text and the spoken text – sometimes down to using the formal form in a subtitle while they use the informal in the spoken version.

All of these things represent both pros and cons for the language learner. But all of these things also are the real world situations of the use of your target language. As I said above, if you watch TV in Germany, you’ll watch a mixture of dubbed and native content, so watching a mixture of dubbed and native content on Netflix is a proper way of simulating that particular aspect of living in Germany.

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My opinion has changed over the years. I used to be much more of a purist.

I used to think native produced content is first priority, and interesting is secondary. Now I just want interesting content.

I feel that most professionally produced TV shows and movies are translated by professional humans, not by machines. Moreover, the studios have realized that good translations means bigger audiences, as most people won’t put up with shows that are poorly translated.

I’m interested in gaining cultural insights, which is why I watch will continue to watch programs that are native productions. Plus, I get exposure to regional accents, which helps with listening comprehension on that end.

Having said that, my TV watching is becoming more balanced – native productions like “Fabulosas Flores” and “Lady, la vendadora de Rosas” as well as watching familiar US series that I enjoy, but now dubbed in Spanish like “Arrested Development” and “American Horror Story.” The dubbed shows have great value in the learning process, and part of that is clarity in speech, which aids in comprehension at my level.

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