Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Learning foreign languages the easy way -- trans-English

Last night I was watching some Japanese anime that had some awkwardly translated English subtitles and I thought to myself that it would be nice to learn a little Japanese while I was watching the anime. But the problem is that subtitled translations restructure the dialogue according to the language of the subtitle. So there was no way that I could match up the Japanese dialogue I was hearing with the English subtitles I was seeing.

I realized that if a transitional subtitling mechanism was used instead, which preserved the original word order of the Japanese dialogue I would probably be able to match up the words more easily. It would read like weird, but understandable English.

The basic idea behind trans-English (transitional English), is to use simpler subtitles, that match the word order of the original spoken dialogue, in order to facilitate foreign language learning.

Here’s an example with Korean, which I know a little of. “Hangguk-mar chekkum aruh yoh”. A typical English subtitling would totally restructure this to be: “I know very little Korean language” or “I know very little Korean”. Now, because of the reordering of the words, in order to maintain a presentable English sentence, the person watching the Korean video, with English subtitles, would have no idea which English word corresponded with which Korean word.

Now, here’s a trans-English (transitional English) subtitled version of the same Korean sentence: “Korean-language little know sir/madam”. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to match up words here.

Hangguk-mar => Korean-language
Chekkum => little
Aruh => know
Yoh => sir/madam.

Now, even though “Korean-language little know sir/madam” is not a proper English sentence, it actually achieves two results. It matches up the words with their English equivalents so that you have a reasonable chance of picking up individual words because there is now a close match between word order and what you are hearing. The second result is that you get a sense of how Korean language sentences are structured. And importantly, you can still basically understand what was meant, even though it’s not a properly structured English sentence.

So, suppose you learn a bunch of new Korean words from watching Korean videos with trans-English subtitles. At the same time, you’ll gain more and more of an intuitive understanding of how Korean sentences are structured.

It’s a win-win situation.

Interestingly, it should actually be much easier for a subtitling company to provide a trans-English subtitle version than a regular English version. That’s because the trans-English version is essentially a verbatim word for word translation.

A while back, a friend of mine was watching an English show with close captioning subtitles. I asked her why she was watching it that way and she replied that it was helping her to learn English.

Thinking back, I think she was able to do it because close caption subtitles match the spoken English word for word. (By the way, she learned to speak English really well.)

So when I’m watching a Japanese anime, with subtitles, it would be cool if I could learn a little Japanese in the process. I’m fairly sure that the use of trans-English subtitles will facilitate that.

If you could learn a foreign language by watching foreign language films with trans-English subtitles versus watching foreign language films with regular subtitles, which would you choose ? I don’t know about you, but I’ve watched a lot of foreign films with subtitles and learned essentially no foreign languages in the process. It would have been cool if these foreign language films had had trans-English subtitles in them. At the very least, I think I would have been able to learn some basic foreign language words that way..

Foreign language film distributions should start to include the trans-English subtitling option on DVDs and Blu-ray discs. This should actually help boost sales of foreign language movies. Not only are people getting the movie, they’re getting a painless foreign language lesson at the same time ! My guess is that it would boost sales/rentals of foreign language movies by a factor of ten or more.
Think of it this way, would you rather learn a foreign language using a standard foreign language learning program or would you rather watch your favorite foreign language films and learn the foreign language that way ? My guess is that 99% of people would choose the latter.

To sum up, the basic idea here is for foreign film distributors to provide trans-English subtitling option with their foreign films. This is advantageous to the foreign film distributor because it will significantly boost sales and rentals of their foreign films. And it’s advantageous to us, the consumers, because it’s a way that we can learn foreign languages easily and painlessly.

And as an added bonus, it should actually be simpler to provide a trans-English subtitle than a standard English subtitle.

Wouldn’t it be cool if your kids started watching foreign movies, with trans-English subtitles, and ended up learning half a dozen foreign languages in the process ?

We, as consumers, can help make this happen by requesting trans-English subtitles on foreign films. Send them email, with a link to this post, post on their blogs, etc..

There may be a day when you say to your kid "Stop doing your homework and watch this foreign language film !"