Which is more effective? How should I go about this?

There‘s a show on Netflix that I want to watch. The show is originally in German. Usually I would watch the show in German and have the subtitles in German too. Or if I really want to be educational about it. I’ll go through the entire script here on Ling, than watch the episode.

But I really just want to watch the series, and don’t want to deal with reading the script. Too tedious. So I was thinking I could just watch the show in the original language (German) but have the subtitles in English. I know this probably isn’t the best way to go about it if I really really want to improve.

what do y’all think? Is this middle ground approach at least a somewhat effective way to improve.


When I try to be too educational about it, I loose all the fun along the way. For example, when I import a German newscast, I usually either read it on LingQ or watch the show without any subtitles.
For Netflix, I’d recommend the latter.
I personally don’t like any subtitles, other than in the target language, because I end up focusing on them and as a result neither do I watch the movie comfortably, nor learn anything - some kind of masochism.
Also with audiobooks, I would first listen to them in English and then in German. If the Netflix series you’ve chosen are entertaining enough, I’d try to watch each episode twice.


Give this method a try and see if you like it. With language reactor you can download tv show subtitles in a bilingual format in English-German with export option. And, you can save it as a pdf file if you click on the print button with a right- click on the subtitles file.

a) Step 1:

Please play the episode on netflix in a separate browser and simultaneously take a look at the English translation sentence by sentence in the subtitles file do it all the way to the completion. Do not watch it. Just treat it as simple audio. Just try to match the meaning with German audio sentence by sentence. This is the whole point of step 1.

b) Step 2:

Now do not use any subtitles. Just watch the whole episode normally and give your full concentration on how actors are speaking sentences. Do it all the way to the completion of the episode no stoppages in between. Evaluate how much your comprehension has improved. Step 2 is allowing you to focus on understanding German language itself instead of hearing German audio and reading English subtitles at the same time(your suggested method.). This way you can actually enjoy watching the episode.


When you say reading the German subtitles is too tedious, is it mostly just a speed issue? Where you’re needing to pause? Or just simply can’t read it quickly enough? Or you are trying to look up words you don’t know?

If reading the German subtitles is a speed issue…well, you can actually adjust the playback speed I think. I’ve not tried that, but it’s an option. If you just hate reading through a movie then maybe as others have suggested, either try without the subtitles at all, or watch with English subtitles first and then watch it again without subtitles.

I think if it’s an issue of just not knowing words, I’d say try just going through a whole episode, with the German subtitles, and not look up anything and don’t pause anything. You may understand a lot more than you think. I did this with the Barbaren series. I was able to get just enough from the subtitles and the ensuing action that I really pretty much understood the whole thing, despite there probably being words in nearly every sentence I didn’t quite know. Other series I have not found to be as easy due to the pace of the dialogue. After the good luck with Barbaren, I revisited Dogs of Berlin but felt quickly a bit lost. Dark was a bit better on part of an episode I watched there.

Asad gives a good recommendation on using Language Reactor. I’ve watched much of the first season of Babylon Berlin with this. You can see the German subtitles and quickly have a translation of a word, or a sentence/phrase. When I’ve done this it includes pausing quite a bit which does make it somewhat tedious, but still very much enjoyable. I haven’t revisited it in a while but potentially I might be able to get through some episodes without it now.

Or, if you simply want to just enjoy and not be forced to learn…just watch it with English subtitles. You probably will make some connections between the German speech and the English subtitles so it could help a small amount. Then like the other said, maybe try watching it again without subtitles or with the German ones now. Now that you know the story it might help make those connections to the German words.

BTW, I’ve found most of Netflix subtitles don’t match the actual speech anyway. So there’s not really a one to one correlation there either.

1 Like

I would probably watch it in German with English subtitles first to make sure I understand and enjoy the show. Then, I would rewatch it with German subtitles and import the show on LingQ. If importing the whole show is too much, you could import a few episodes and see your progression :slight_smile:

1 Like

I second the dual subtitles approach in the beginning. If your comprehension is less than <50% ish, it’s really not fun and hard to pick up words from context. DualSub Chrome extension is really great for youtube (doesn’t work for Netflix)

Eventually you’ll reach the point where your NL is no longer useful and gets in the way. I got myself addicted to Chinese dramas with the dual sub method, and it’s been effective, especially when you get burnt out occasionally and need to relax but still engage with the language.

When I want to watch very intricate plot / character driven shows and enjoy them, I still turn on the dual subtitles and watch them with my husband.

TV should be a fun relaxing activity, and personally I feel most of the mental energy should be put into reading, so don’t stress!


Unlike everyone else here, I agree with you full heartedly.
As Nike says: “Just do it!”
Do exactly what you are inclined to do!
Go with your heart!

If I were you I’d simply follow my heart and go along with what you were thinking: “…just watch the show in the original language (German) but have the subtitles in English.”

It is obviously not the most effective way to improve, but if it keeps you interacting with the target language - it’s a positive action and not a negative one. Rather that, then give up entirely. You could if you wish, watch the same show with subtitles in German afterwards.

As it happens, it is an excellent way to improve!
How do you figure the Swedes, Danes, Dutch and the Portuguese have got so good at English? - So much better than the Germans, French and Spaniards? It’s due to exposure to the language in exactly the way you suggest.

In France and Germany, James Bond is dubbed in German or French. No exposure to English while relaxing. In countries such as Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands, James Bond appears in English with subtitles in Portuguese, Danish or Dutch. Exposure to the language while relaxing.

This, my friend, is very definitely one of the reasons the Portuguese are so much better at English than the Spaniards. You’ll benefit tremulously from watching Netflix in German and reading the subtitles in English - very much so. As you get better, and get used to hearing German daily while relaxing you can graduate to German Netflix and German subtitles and then one day find you don’t need subtitles at all. You’ll be at ease watching a German production made for a German audience and find yourself thoroughly enjoying it.

If you stick to it - exerting yourself in the way suggested by others here from time to time - but most of the time relaxing, allowing yourself to watch Netflix in the manner you suggest, you’ll get there :slight_smile:


Hello MarkE!
I think a lot of us have experienced that feeling. xD
In terms of learning a second language most effectively, you want to understand a very high percentage of the content you’re reading or listening to. This has been tested scientifically. Stephen Krashen's Theory of Second Language Acquisition

To me, understanding movies is the ultimate achievement. If your main goal is to have fun while getting a little exposure to the language, anything goes!
You should switch to German subtitles as soon as you can comfortably follow the story using them. And you should use subtitles until you understand upwards of 90%.

Ich hoffe das hilft! Viel Glück! =D


Your proposed method is a terrible one. There are plenty of people that peruse foreign content with subtitles displayed in their native language and yet these people hardly get anything out of their time vested other than the enjoyment that the content itself brings. If you want to make true progress watching videos or movies then you should definitely study the subtitles before you watch. If your level in german is already high-high enough that it’s feasible for you to follow along with german subtitles in real time-then watching the show without any prior preparation is not at all a bad idea but if this is not the case i wouldn’t recommend one use this method.

It’s your life though.


I think if you have a basic understanding of German already then this is okay. You can basically understand the show and maybe pick up new words. However speaking from personal experience, this is very slow and hard if you don’t have a basic vocabulary of your select language. So I think it all depends on your level.

1 Like

The middle ground would be watching the show with subtitles in the target language. Now whether or not you do this after reading the subtitles with LingQ or a tool like Language Reactor is up to you.

You will learn very little watching the show with subtitles in English. If that is a result you are happy with and just want to enjoy the show, then by all means!

If you want to simply watch the show without intensively going through the subtitles, and you want to improve in the language, then it would be best to watch with the subtitles in German with the knowledge that you will not understand everything.


I can speak to my own experience

It depends on where I’m at with the language.

If I can’t keep up with the language and my reading is slow I’m screwed either way.

If I can understand some of the words spoken but not enough to understand the whole thing I can benefit from having English subtitles and trying to listen hard at the same time. I find that (in Russian) it helps me match some words and phrases to the English.

When I was doing French I could understand it better than I can with Russian but still not enough to have the subtitles off. So I had French subtitles on.

So yeah it depends on the level. But if you just want to enjoy the show to hell with it, just put the English subtitles on and watch it. You can always dissect it later.

I did that already with two shows in Russian : “Better than us” an epic scifi show and “The Method” an epic crime show.

I found that I still picked up a few phrases here and there so it was a win-win.

You’re totally allowed to watch in whatever language and subtitle combination you feel like in the moment. I used to watch a lot my TL shows with English subtitles and despite what the internet’s wisdom would have you believe, it does help you advance when you do that.

A lot of the “subtitle purism” comes from the current fad using Netflix as a primary learning method. In that scenario, you have to do everything based on the purist rules of TL only. But the thing is, if you do the reading listening method with actual books and similar materials as you primary study method, you can then just watch TV shows for fun with whatever subs you want, and gradually work up to TL subs and no subs over time, since your core progress is gonna be made with reading / listening anyway.


It might be “inefficient” to watch TV shows above your level and have to rely on English subtitles but it’s not all about the “work” of language learning. As you say, you’re allowed to “play”.

Even so, watching a ton of video above your level will still accustom your ears to the musicality, cadence and rhythm to an extent. If I’m doing listening practice I often listen to something just at my level and just slightly above my level. That actually helps my ear get used to something a little harder.

1 Like

Use Language Reactor and watch with German and English subtitles at the same time.


I watch a video on Reddit for people who are interested in learning Spanish, I help them with their Spanish questions about why do native Spanish speaker talk in that way. In that video he speaks that it is scientific proved that the best way to watch a video, for language learning, is with the subtitle in the target language and obviously the audio too.

1 Like

An extract from Swedishfinnpolymath’s post 3 weeks ago:

“When I started learning Spanish I used to watch it on TV here in Finland with subtitles in Finnish and enjoyed it immensely. I later discovered that I can watch the series on RTVE’s (sort of Spanish equivalent to BBC) own website with Spanish subtitles.”

The full post received 8 likes

In addition to what others have said, if you are really determined to watch this show I would also suggest to watch it through in English or in German w/English subtitles first. Wait a week, and then try it again in German w/German subtitles.

Knowing the context intimately makes a huge difference. I would maybe even suggest watching the show twice in English before trying in German. If there’s a book for it as well, read that too. I mean, you don’t have to I guess, but the more you put into it the more you’ll get out of it.

One final point:

If it’s fun for you, give it a shot. There’s an understandable obsession with doing things in the most “correct” or “efficient” or “scientifically-backed” matter, but in the end I recommend just to do what you think is fun. Language learning is necessarily a bore at times, working through grammar for instance is often a labour of love. But the language-learning process as a whole should be fun. So, give it a shot and if you’re having fun then great! But if partway through you get tired/find it too difficult and it’s not fun anymore, don’t be afraid to move onto something else.

Viel Glück!

1 Like

There is lots of cool research on this. Steven Fry had a whole promotion of turning on the subtitles for children to have them help reading. Research into Same-Language Subtitling - Turn On The Subtitles

Halfway down the page, there has been a ton of research of second language learning and subtitles that show (at least for similar languages) that having ANY kind of subtitles is better than none.


“There is a rich body of evidence supporting the impact of Same Language Subtitling (SLS) . There is strong and growing evidence that SLS also improves reading skills.”

“The results indicate that comprehension improves when learners are exposed to a text in several modalities. In addition, they suggest that L2 subtitling [SLS] is more beneficial than L1 [translation subtitling] because it causes less lexical interference.”

“The results of the listening skills tests revealed that after watching the English subtitled version [of English content], participants improved these skills significantly more than after watching the Spanish subtitled or no-subtitles versions.”

I think that how effective it is strongly depends on how similar the TL language is to the NL learner. I’m middle aged and engaged in many thousands of hours over >20 years of Japanese media with Japanese audio and English subtitles and have only picked up a couple of words. My husband has watched hundreds of hours of Cdramas with my dual subtitle method and still can’t recognize "走“ so studying & reading still takes priority. Therefore, for me, I find NL subtitles near useless.

The original poster is learning German from being a native English speaker, so it’s probably not a waste of time to watch TV with whatever subtitles he wants.

I find this conversation fascinating… I almost wish I was interested in European languages since it would be much easier just to watch a lot of TV hahahah.

1 Like

So the devil is in the details.
I personally learn primarily from video and audio.
I don’t use subtitles at all when using it to learn the language for most of my learning. I use them only when I’m entertaining myself and when watching stuff that is higher than my level.
What I do is this:

  1. I memorize a bunch of spoken words in anki (typically the first 2,000 most frequent words).
  2. Start watching easiest possible target language videos on youtube (typically TPRS type videos)
  3. Continue memorizing spoken words
  4. At about 3,000 words I start watching slow spoken target language videos on youtube.
  5. continue memorizing spoken words
  6. At about 4,000 words I start watching a sprinkling of native language podcasters on youtube (20%) with the rest slow spoken target language videos on youtube.
  7. continue memorizing spoken words
  8. At about 5,000 words I start watching a sprinkling of easier native language TV shows on netflix or youtube with english subtitles (20%) with the rest native language podcasters (40%) and slow spoken target language videos (40%)
  9. continue memorizing spoken words. I’ll also start listening to audio courses like pimsleur, dave thomas, linguaphone etc to try to pay better attention to grammar.
  10. somewhere between 6-7,000 words I start to see if I can watch my target native language content without subtitles and I focus almost purely on native language podcasters and easy TV shows.

The whole process takes about 6-7 months on an “easy” language like French and so far I’m about step #9 in Russian after 11 months. I believe based on my gut feel of my progress that a “hard” language like Russian will take 18 months for the same level of understanding as I got with 6 months at an “easy” language.

Also: I use lingQ for the mini-stories throughout the whole process. I click on each word in the story to “hear” the word in sequence and then I’ll listen to the mp3. I listen to the lingQ mini-stories probably at least 2-3 times for the entire sequence before I’m done.