English Subtitles For Foreign Language Films & TV: Pros & Cons

Whether you’re thinking of producing a foreign movie and using English subtitles, or you’re interested in watching more foreign movies on Netflix, it’s no lie that the topic of English subtitles on foreign language TV & films is a tricky one. Whilst there are a lot of benefits to using them, there are some cons that can’t be ignored, some of which may well change your outlook on the subject overall.

To help you gain more of an insight into this interesting topic, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using English subtitles for foreign language movies & TV:

What is foreign movie & tv subtitling?

Subtitles are words that appear on the screen when subtitling is selected by the viewer. They show the words spoken by the actors in the language you have chosen to read and tend to not include information like music being played, or sound effects. There may be some musical notes or very minimal descriptions of sounds in the subtitles if they are central to the plot of the TV show or movie.

The pros & cons of using English subtitles for foreign language movies & TV

There are various pros and cons associated with using English for any foreign language media production and here are a few to consider:


Access to many incredible productions

With English subtitling, you, or your audience, have access to many incredible foreign language productions that you wouldn’t have been able to enjoy before. Netflix has had some great success with this featuring films like Roma, TV series like Dark and 2021’s smash hit Squid Game, which had 1.65 billion hours viewed in the first 28 days and has been more watched than any other Netflix release to date.

English is spoken by a lot of people

English is spoken by over 1.5 billion people of which 400 million use it as their first language. This means that the rest all have it as an extra language or second language. So, by using English subtitling for a foreign movie film, you unlock not just native English speakers as an audience, but people from all over the world who are able to understand this popular language.

Access for hard of hearing

Around 1.2 million people in the UK have hearing loss and so, foreign cinema with dubbing is not usable. By using English subtitling those people can gain access to the vast selection of fantastic world cinema options available to enjoy at the moment.

Help to learn a foreign language

If you’re learning a foreign language it can be useful to have subtitling as well as listening to the language being spoken. You can hear the correct pronunciation of different words, and associate the language you hear with the words that you see on screen. As you’re able to rewind TV and movies easily, and remove and add subtitles, you also have the ability to test your understanding of a foreign language with what is essentially direct translation.


Can cause a distraction

English subtitles need to be read and however easily we may be able to read and watch a film, we are still distracted, to some degree, from the programme.

Verbal input is missing from written words alone

The tone, emotion and other aural cues we get from the way that words are spoken is missing when you access English subtitles. You can hear the actor speaking and you can read the words, but you’re unlikely to know which of the words you are seeing are the same as the sounds you are hearing. This is especially true with languages with different sentence structures and language rules to those used in English. To summarise – you don’t get all the information beyond words alone that you would if you could hear the script being spoken.

Slow readers might miss out

If you’re a slow reader, you might struggle to follow the dialogue, thereby severely reducing your enjoyment of the programme.

You can’t look away for long

You only need to glance away from the screen for a second and you’ll miss some of the subtitles. This could be problematic if you are eating when viewing, if you like to do crafts or play on your phone, or if you often watch movies with distractions like children or pets around you.

Alternatives to English subtitling

Dubbing is an alternative to subtitling which involves actors recording voiceovers of the dialogue in a different language, which is then included in the program in replace of the original spoken language.  The idea is that the dubbing sounds almost exactly like the actor who is performing in the movie, only it’s in the language you have selected. Whilst problematic in some ways, dubbing can be a really good alternative to subtitles if you want to (or your audience to) enjoy the movie without any distractions. It can also allow you to source voice actors with a suitable accent or dialect for the intended audience.  Provided the production quality is high, and good quality recording equipment and microphones are used, dubbing can be an excellent alternative to subtitling.