The internet has been a big deal for language learners since the beginning. I remember in the mid 90’s being able to read newspapers from around the world for the first time. It’s easy to forget, or if one is younger, not consider how revolutionary that was at a time when even finding national newspapers required a trip to the local library, assuming you were lucky enough to have one. As bandwidth increased, we were soon listening to music and watching videos from around the world. For teachers, this meant an emphasis on “authentic language materials”. No longer were we bound to the painfully bad dialogues that came on CDs or cassettes with the textbook.
Then came “Web 2.0”. Photo-sharing sites like Flickr and social networking sites like MySpace and later Facebook became the largest sites on the web. Whereas before the world wide web was a content resource for most of us, now it became a platform for communicating and sharing. Our students could blog, leave comments, and best of all , have a language exchange with another learner across the world.
I think we’re now seeing what will be the next wave for those interested in foreign languages, the ability to be able to choose your content agnostically, meaning you’ll first decide what you’d like to read, watch or hear, and then you’ll select the language. Some of this is still a little ways off from being practical with things like Google Translate for web pages and Skype’s realtime translation for conversations. With Netflix, however, this is already becoming mainstream.
Netflix has plans to become the first truly global TV station. They’ve expanded to 190 countries and are trying to do so as rapidly as possible to compete with local competitors in each market. At first Netflix was a purchaser of content, but this meant reaching license agreements for each owner within each market, a major hurdle in their expansion. Increasingly, they’ve focused instead on creating their own content such as “House of Cards”, “Stranger Things”, “Orange is the New Black”, and many others. It only makes sense for them to make this content available in as many languages as possible. This also means there is likely to be an increase in competition. Although streaming services from Amazon and Hulu are still largely English only, already niche streaming services are appearing including Pantaya for Spanish language movies.
If you have Netflix and are learning a new language, it’s an incredible resource. When you start any of these shows, you’ll notice an icon in the bottom right that allows you to choose the language of both the audio and subtitles. If you’re a beginner, maybe you’ll want to keep one in your native language or even toggle the subtitles on and off. More advanced learners may want to have both audio and subtitles in the language you are learning. One word of caution, the translations of the audio and subtitles are clearly done separately, so if you miss a word in the audio, you may not see the exact same word or phrase in the subtitles even if they’re both in the same language.
Hope this helps. If you have other online video resources you’ve used to practice your listening, leave them in the comments below.