Another dot in the blogosphere?

Subtitles and context

Posted on: August 10, 2020

Today I reflect on the importance of appreciating context.

I probably watched more than my fair share of streaming video programmes during lockdown. I watched several shows that were not in English, e.g., Dark (German), Kingdom (Korean), Money Heist (Spanish), various Miyazaki animations (Japanese), and more.

I listened to the soundtrack of those non-English shows in their original language and had the benefit of English subtitles. I could have activated the English soundtracks, but I found them oddly disconcerting — they did not seem to suit the context.

It was more difficult to watch while reading subtitles, but I was experiencing the narratives in context. The voiceovers seemed to remove expressions and nuance. Think of it this way: Imagine watching the Singaporean comedy series Phua Chu Kang as voiced by British voice actors!

Not appreciating shows in the language they were originally spoken is like like travelling overseas but not taking in the local customs and food. You can insist on having your own way, but what then is the point of travelling?

How is this relevant to learning? Just about anything worth teaching and learning has context. Such context should precede content. But in our rush to cover curriculum (whose root word means “to race”) we focus on content at the expense of context. Context focuses on narratives and the reasons for learning that context.

Since teachers often do not bother with context (or perhaps do not even know the context), I wonder if there might be a way to subtitle teaching as it happens online and electronically. I am not just talking about hyperlinking interesting talking points. I am thinking about subtitles that run like chyrons so that context enriches content as it is delivered and discovered.

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