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Should You Learn English by Watching YouTube Videos with or without Subtitles

There are numerous methods to improve English skills, and watching YouTube videos is one of the popular choices. Several studies indicate that watching videos aids in expanding vocabulary and enhancing overall comprehension of English.

So, you’re sitting there in front of your PC, having decided to check YouTube as part of your English learning journey. Once you’ve chosen a video, considering it supports multiple subtitles, the question arises: Should I watch it with or without subtitles?

The question then evolves to “If I do watch this video with subtitles, should I go for the native subtitles or the English subtitles?”

When it comes to using YouTube videos for English learning, there are several factors to consider. Let’s delve into these considerations to optimize your learning experience.

Read on to find out what suits you best. 

The Importance of Subtitles in Learning English 

The first thing to ask yourself if you want to start watching a video for English learning is this: Should I put on the subtitles, or not?

The first decision you face when using YouTube for English learning is whether to use subtitles. Should you rely solely on listening to the video content, or would your learning benefit from reading along with the dialogue?

We researched it for you. It turns out that several studies have highlighted the importance of turning on those subtitles for maximum effectiveness of English learning through videos. 

For example, a 2013 study by the Centre for Research on Lifelong Learning showed that subtitling plays an important role in a person’s language acquisition. The study further said that “foreign language proficiency is stressing the significance of successful learning strategies, which can apply to the optimal use of subtitles.”

In a more recent study, a 2018 analysis on the role of subtitles in foreign language teaching showed that students who participated in the study believe that watching films with subtitles has” improved their listening comprehension skills” and has a “positive contribution to the development of their speaking skills.” 

A recent study titled The Use of YouTube Videos in Learning English by Kurniawan (2023) underscores YouTube’s pivotal role in ESL classrooms, highlighting its capacity to diversify teaching methodologies, engage learners, and contextualize real-life language use. YouTube videos integrate language learning into authentic, interactive contexts, fostering autonomy and motivation among learners.

While watching YouTube videos inherently aids English proficiency, employing subtitles amplifies this effect. Subtitles enrich your learning experience by reinforcing vocabulary, improving reading skills, and refining pronunciation through auditory reinforcement.

Why? Because subtitles add new dimensions to your learning. 

In a video, you learn English by hearing and watching dialogues from the main characters. Subtitles, meanwhile, push this further.

Subtitles also enhance your reading skills in English. They also help you determine the proper pronunciation of words because you hear the characters speaking them as you read them. 

Subtitles will also tend to widen your horizons in terms of word use, comprehension, and vocabulary. While it may be more daunting to watch the video and read subtitles simultaneously, subtitles give you that extra push if your goal is to learn English. 

So it’s settled, watching videos with subtitles is better for your English-learning journey.

What are the Advantages of Using English Subtitles? 

1. It Promotes Subconscious Learning

Like any other organ in the body, the brain has its limits. If you’re trying to train your brain to learn something new, you can only focus on the lessons for a specific amount of time before your brain starts to tune out. 

This is where subconscious learning enters the picture. Subconscious learning is loosely defined as acquiring knowledge or skill below the conscious state of mind. 

Conscious learning is when you are actively trying to learn things like taking classes for English or reading a textbook for sentence construction. On the other hand, subconscious learning is just getting along with your daily life and learning English without you knowing it. 

This is what happens when you watch videos with English subtitles. The brain relaxes into the film’s entertaining visuals and storyline while enhancing your English reading and comprehension skills along the way.

While watching videos with English subtitles, you inevitably absorb new words, phrases, and pronunciations used in dialogues. This is an excellent way to de-stress your brain from the pressure of learning English and also pick something up along the way. 


For example, if you’re watching an educational video on YouTube, English subtitles help you grasp complex terms and improve your listening and reading skills simultaneously.

2. It is an Easy Way to Correct Pronunciations

Pronunciations are a little bit tricky to learn, especially if you come from a background where the accent of your native language is quite heavy. You can read all the books all you want or take lessons all you want but it takes a considerable amount of exposure to English to get the hang of certain pronunciations. 

A good way to get in those “practice hours” for pronunciation is by watching a lot of English videos with subtitles. This is like shooting two birds with one stone because you will see how a particular word is spelled and how it is said in actual conversations. 

This is also an advantage for people who do not have English-speaking family members and are spending most of their time at home due to the pandemic. Because they cannot practice English with anyone, they can turn to videos to learn the pronunciation of some words. 


Consider a scenario where you’re watching a tutorial video on pronunciation. English subtitles will show you how words are pronounced, enabling you to mimic the correct intonation and stress patterns.

3. It Improves Reading Speed and Comprehension

In general, watching videos will help you learn English because of the exposure you get to the language from the dialogue in the film. But, if you want to take it a level higher, it’s time to turn on those English subtitles. 

One of the main advantages of watching films with English subtitles is that you not only learn speaking through hearing, you also learn English by reading. Reading is one of the core skills of learning a language. 

English subtitles in videos will also give you a unique opportunity to learn through reading because there are two simultaneous aspects of language learning in one activity. One is listening to English language cues through situational viewing and one is through reading while observing the situation unfold. 

Overall, this unique opportunity trains the brain to read and comprehend fast. Watching videos repeatedly with English subtitles will eventually lead to faster reading skills and sharper comprehension levels. 


Imagine attending a virtual conference where the keynote speaker uses real-time captioning.

As the speaker delivers their presentation, you can simultaneously read the captions at the bottom of the screen. This dual sensory input of listening and reading helps reinforce the message, making it easier to grasp complex topics and remember crucial details.

4. It Enhances Your Vocabulary and Spelling

Watching videos with English subtitles is also expected to expand your vocabulary and introduce you to new words. Why is that?

This is because sometimes when you watch a video, you get so engrossed with the visuals and the storyline that dialogue takes a backseat in your brain. But when you turn on the English subtitles, you become more aware of the words used in the video. 

This also means that even if you have already watched a video before without subtitles, chances are you will still get to learn new words once you turn on the English subtitles. 

And, because the words are spelled out for you, you will not need to wonder what the new word’s spelling is. You acquire the correct spelling as you learn it simultaneously. 


For instance, if you’re watching a documentary on wildlife, English subtitles will display scientific terms, aiding your understanding and retention of biological concepts.

5. It Describes Actions Into Words

Subtitles do not only put into words what is being said in the video. It also transcribes what is currently happening in the scene. 

This is another great use of subtitles as a tool for learning English, particularly on action verbs. Sometimes, as you learn action verbs in school or books, they are only described also by words. 

For example, when people learn about the word “kick”, it will often be described to learners as “to strike forcibly with a foot”. While that is clear, it is still hard to visualize if you have not heard the word yet in your entire life. 

In turning English subtitles in video, however, you will see that the text will read “main character kicks the door”, as the protagonist kicks the door open. This will give you a better idea of what the word means. 


Consider a travel vlog where the narrator describes exploring a new city. English subtitles will capture both the dialogue and the actions, reinforcing your comprehension of verbs like “explore,” “navigate,” and “discover.”

What are the Disadvantages of Using English Subtitles? 

1. It Is Not for Everyone

For beginners who have absolutely no knowledge of the English language, English subtitles may not work well for you. Watching English videos with English subtitles will only confuse you and give you information overload.

It may also make you frustrated that you can’t keep up in reading and comprehending everything at the same time. This will cause discouragement on your part and may lead to you taking a step back in actually learning. 

It can also be a nuisance if the video is in your native language and you put on the subtitles in English. This can be quite confusing as you already understand the video and you find yourself switching between two languages at the same time. 

Some videos, especially those that are focused on certain traditions, ethnic backgrounds, or cultures, also do not do well with English subtitles. This is because some words in the dialogues don’t have an English counterpart. 


Consider participating in a live webinar on cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques with real-time subtitles. This experience can be particularly challenging for newcomers as the presenter often employs specialized jargon and advanced terminology that may overwhelm those who are not yet familiar with the field.

Even with subtitles, beginners might find it difficult to follow along, as they need to simultaneously decode the technical language and understand the intricate concepts being discussed. This dual task of listening and reading, combined with the complexity of the subject matter, can hinder their overall comprehension and retention of the material.

2. It Can Promote Too Much Dependence on Subtitles

This is one simple, but important disadvantage of using English subtitles to watch out for. Because English subtitles aid a lot in learning and understanding the video, especially the linguistic aspect of it, there is always that tendency to be dependent on it. 

If you’re already a fluent English speaker and you become dependent on subtitles to better understand the video dialogues, that is fine. However, if your goal in watching a video is to learn and hone your English skills, then you have to bear in mind that subtitles are there to increase your knowledge of the language. 

You will know if you are becoming too dependent on the subtitles if you experience the following when watching a video. 

  • When your eyes are fixated on the subtitles rather than the actual scenes
  • When you press pause too often because you haven’t had the chance to read the subtitles
  • When you remember most of the dialogue but don’t remember most of the scenes

Once you recognize these, it will be easy for you to snap out of your dependence on subtitles and start challenging your brain to understand and be more efficient in learning English. 


Imagine you’re watching a popular YouTube tutorial on digital marketing with English subtitles enabled. While the subtitles help you grasp the specifics of the strategies discussed, there’s a risk of over-reliance.

If you’re aiming to enhance your English proficiency through such content, it’s crucial to strike a balance. Becoming too reliant on subtitles might lead you to focus more on reading the text than on observing the actual strategies being demonstrated.

This could hinder your ability to absorb the practical aspects of digital marketing, such as analyzing metrics or implementing campaigns effectively. Thus, it’s essential to occasionally challenge yourself by watching segments without subtitles, enabling you to strengthen both your comprehension skills and practical knowledge in tandem.

What are the Advantages of Using Native Subtitles? 

One advantage of using native subtitles is that you can test yourself and your progress in learning English. You can also verify if your understanding of English words is correct. 

What you can do is if you are watching a particular video many times over to learn the language or to understand the particular English accent, you can test yourself by switching the subtitles back to native ones. 

From there, you can repeat back the lines in English for practice, or you can analyze if you heard the word right by verifying what it means in the native subtitle. 

The only problem with this is that, before you use native subtitles, you have to be familiarized already with the English subtitles. That means you cannot use native subtitles alone in learning English. 

You still have to use English subtitles, and then use native subtitles as a supplement to learning through videos. 

What are the Disadvantages of Using Native Subtitles? 

1. It Does Not Ensure Direct Translation 

Translating content accurately between languages is complex. Often, words and phrases in one language don’t have direct equivalents in another, leading to nuances being lost in translation.

This complexity is particularly evident when using native subtitles on YouTube videos, where direct translation of scripts isn’t guaranteed. This can be especially challenging for English learners, as it may lead to confusion when meanings are not accurately conveyed.


Consider a tech tutorial video originally in English. The presenter uses idiomatic expressions like “let’s dive into the deep end” to indicate exploring complex concepts. Directly translating this to another language might lead to confusion, as the metaphorical meaning could be lost, and viewers may interpret it literally.

In English, it might be obvious that it is an idiom, but if this is translated, it can be misunderstood as holding an actual horse. 

2. It Can Be Distracting to Read and Translate

While English subtitles on English videos can aid in comprehension, native subtitles can present challenges. They may distract viewers who are learning English, as they have to mentally switch between languages to follow the content effectively.

This dual cognitive load of listening to spoken English and reading in another language can hinder the learning process by diverting attention away from understanding the video’s subject matter.


Imagine watching a YouTube video on quantum mechanics with native language subtitles. The intricate concepts being explained require full concentration. If viewers are also trying to follow subtitles in their native language, it can become overwhelming, impacting their ability to grasp complex scientific theories being discussed.

3. It Can Be Hard to Find 

Unlike English subtitles, which are widely available for most YouTube videos, native language subtitles may not always be accessible. This limitation can be frustrating when trying to find educational content or specific topics in one’s native language.

This scarcity of native language subtitles can restrict viewers’ choices, reducing opportunities to learn from a diverse range of content available on YouTube.


Suppose you want to learn about environmental sustainability and decide to watch a documentary on YouTube with native-language subtitles. However, if these subtitles are unavailable in your native language, you might need to settle for a different video with English subtitles instead. This limitation can curtail your learning options and exposure to various aspects of environmental issues.

By focusing on YouTube videos, these examples illustrate how native language subtitles can pose challenges in learning and understanding content across different genres and topics.

Weighing the Options — To use or not use Subtitles

When considering whether to use subtitles in your YouTube videos and which type to choose, it’s crucial to prioritize your English learning goals. For enhancing English through YouTube videos, the clear advantage lies in using English subtitles.

English subtitles not only provide a comprehensive learning experience by combining listening and reading skills but also facilitate subconscious learning and vocabulary expansion. They aid in pronunciation practice and improve reading comprehension, making them invaluable tools for language learners.

While native subtitles offer a testing ground for comprehension, they may pose challenges in accurate translation and could distract from the primary goal of improving English proficiency.

Therefore, if you’re gearing up for a YouTube video marathon to boost your English skills during your downtime, opting for English subtitles ensures a productive learning experience. You’ll not only enjoy the content but also make significant strides in mastering the English language.


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