The Best Type of Subtitles to Use When Learning a Foreign Language

Illustration of subtitles in both native and foreign language (assuming your native language is English).


When you learn a new language, it’s important to get a lot of exposure to it. Among other ways, you can accomplish this by watching movies and TV shows in your target language. In general, it’s better for you to watch foreign-language videos with subtitles, rather than without them. However, this gives rise to a question: what’s the best type of subtitles to use? This is an important question, because a simple modification (the type of subtitles you use), could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your learning process.


Foreign Language Subtitles vs. Native Language Subtitles

In general, studies show that it’s a better to use foreign-language subtitles when you’re watching foreign-language material, though there is some conflicting evidence on the topic. For example:

  • Dutch students learning English as a second language were (slightly) better able to process English sentences after watching English material with English subtitles than with Dutch subtitles.
  • English-speaking students who were learning Spanish had a (slightly) larger improvement in vocabulary recognition after watching Spanish films using Spanish subtitles, as opposed to students who watched the films with English subtitles. They also enjoyed watching the films more, and connected with the material better.
  • Conversely, a study on Turkish college students learning English, found no difference between foreign-language and native-language subtitles.

As you can see, it’s generally preferable to use foreign-language subtitles as opposed to native language subtitles, though the difference isn’t huge. In addition, keep in mind that your preference could depend on how well you speak the foreign language. While foreign-language subtitles tend to be better, beginners might struggle with them. In that case, it’s better to use subtitles in the native language, until you feel comfortable having both the audio and the subtitles in the foreign language.


Other subtitles

There are two additional types of subtitles, which are less-commonly used, but still worth mentioning:

Reverse subtitles are subtitles in the foreign language, which appear together with a soundtrack in the native language. Interestingly, these subtitles are generally preferable to native-language subtitles on a foreign-language soundtrack. There is a tradeoff though: while this method might help you in some areas (e.g. vocabulary learning), it doesn’t help in other areas, such as your listening skills. Therefore, feel free to use this tool (especially as a beginner), but keep its limitations in mind.

Personally, I really like these subtitles. They can help you get exposure to the target language in a comfortable environment, where you don’t feel overwhelmed by constantly struggling to understand what the characters are saying. While you do eventually need to practice listening to the language you are learning, this is a great way to get passive exposure to it; just enable the subtitles while watching your regular shows, and you’ll notice yourself using them more and more, as you manage to pick up bigger text fragments (starting with words and moving on to full sentences).

In addition, another important advantage is that it is sometimes easier to find films and shows in your native language than in your target language. For example, if you’re an English speaker, you will likely have a much bigger selection of things to watch in your native language than in most other languages.

Dual subtitles use the foreign language soundtrack, together with subtitles in both the foreign and the native language. While these subtitles provide the most information, there is often not enough time to read them both while watching the show. One way to deal with this is to stick with looking at the foreign language subtitles, and refer to the native language ones only when you need a translation. Some platforms have specific solutions for this, which allow you to view the native language translation by hovering over the foreign language subtitles when necessary, but this solution is unfortunately not yet widely available.


Other considerations

First, remember that the more of a beginner you are, the more input in the native language you’re probably going to need, and that’s perfectly fine.

Furthermore, there is also variation in personal preferences; different people learn in different ways, and prefer using different materials. Experiment to see what works for you.

Overall, the most important factor is your motivation to engage in the learning process. If you’re not engaging with material in the target language, then you’re not learning. Therefore, if you find yourself not watching things because the material is too difficult, it’s better to switch to something that you’re comfortable with (e.g. native-language subtitles), as long as it means that you’re actually engaging with foreign-language material in some way. Just make sure you’re aware that this is a step in the learning process, and that eventually you will need to advance to the more complex material, even if it seems scary at first.


Summary and conclusions

  • If you’re watching material in a foreign language, it’s better to watch it with subtitles than without them.
  • Subtitles in the foreign language are generally slightly more effective than subtitles in your native language. However, if you’re a beginner, you’re probably going to need subtitles in the native language.
  • Other good options are reverse subtitles (foreign-language subtitles together with a native language soundtrack), or dual subtitles (foreign-language soundtrack and subtitles in both the foreign and the native language).
  • Different people benefit from different types of subtitles. Experiment to see what works for you.
  • The most important thing is to use material which makes you engage with the target language. The more motivation you have, the more you will be exposed to the material, and the more you will learn.


Straw Man Arguments: How to Recognize, How to Counter, and When to Use Them Yourself

Strawman argument


A straw man argument is a debate technique where a person pretends to refute his opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument that is only superficially similar to the original one. For example, if person A were to say “we should improve the public healthcare system”, person B might reply with “I find the fact that you want to give a lot of money to large pharmaceutical corporations very suspicious”.

What happens is the following:

  1. First, person A states his position.
  2. Then, person B presents a distorted version of person A’s original position (while pretending that there’s no difference between the two versions).
  3. Finally, person B attacks the new position, and acts as if this invalidates person A’s original position.

Essentially, instead of arguing against the original stance, person B creates a “straw man”, which is easier to attack. This misrepresentation is a flaw in the premise of person B’s argument, which is why straw man arguments are a type of informal logical fallacy.


Example of a strawman argument

Senator A: “I think we should make medical marijuana more readily available for patients who need it.”

Senator B: “That’s a terrible idea. If we let everyone just do drugs whenever they want, crimes rates will increase drastically.”

Senator B uses a straw man argument, by misrepresenting Senator A’s stance on two key points:

  1. Senator B argues against everyone having access to marijuana, while Senator A argued in favor of patients having access to it.
  2. Senator B argues against drugs in general, while Senator discussed only marijuana.

Note that we’re not discussing whether Senator B’s claim is true overall; we’re focusing on his misrepresentation of Senator A’s stance. Just because person B is distorting person A’s claim, doesn’t mean that his response to distorted stance is wrong (though I’m not implying that this is the case here).


Using strawman arguments in practice

These arguments are very prevalent in debates, and can appear in various forms:

  • Oversimplifying, generalizing or exaggerating the opponent’s argument, and then attacking the new, weaker version.
  • Focusing on one specific part of the opponent’s argument and ignoring everything else.
  • Quoting parts of the original argument out of context in order to misrepresent them.
  • Arguing against fringe or extreme opinions which are sometimes used to support the opponent’s stance, but which the opponent didn’t use himself. For example. If the opponent is part of a group, it is possible to focus on the weakest supporters and refute their stance, while pretending that this is what the entire group believes.

Being able to recognize straw man arguments is valuable, because it allows you to tell when others are using this technique, whether in direct arguments against you, or in general discussion. Furthermore, understanding how this technique works means that you can use it yourself when necessary. You would admittedly be exploiting a logical fallacy to support your argument, but the choice whether or not to do so is up to you.

However, while the use of the straw man technique is widespread, research suggests that using this type of argument is not always a beneficial strategy. A study on the topic showed that as a rhetorical technique, straw man arguments are useful only when the listeners have a low level of motivation to scrutinize the argument (i.e. they don’t care much about what’s being said). Conversely, when listeners are invested in actually thinking about the argument, the technique is generally ineffective, and may even backfire by reducing the persuasiveness of the argument.


How to counter strawman arguments

A good way to minimize your vulnerability to the straw man in the first place is to use clear and exact language, with as little room for misinterpretations as possible. However, while this reduces the risk of someone using a straw man against you, nothing can prevent someone from using this type of argument if they want to. Therefore, you should know how to counter it, using the following options:

  • Point out the straw man- call your opponent out on their use of a straw man. If they stick with it, focus on showing why their new argument is not relevant. Keep in mind that perception matters, especially if there is an audience: you want your opponent to be on the defensive for his actions, not the other way around. Make your opponent defend why your original stance and their distorted stance are the same. If there is truly a flaw in their premise, it will become evident under scrutiny.
  • Ignore the straw man- you can ignore the distorted argument, by refusing to engage anything that isn’t relevant to your original point (i.e. defend your original point, not the straw man that the opponent presents). If they insist, you will likely have to call them out on the straw man.
  • Go with it- in some cases, it might be necessary (or easier) to adopt the straw man as your argument. However, the longer you go down this route, the more difficult it is to go back and point out the straw man fallacy, since by supporting the new argument you appear to take it as your stance.


Other important things to keep in mind:

  • The first step to countering a straw man is recognizing it.
  • The overall goal of the straw man is to distort your stance, in order to make it harder for you to defend.
  • Sometimes people use this technique by mistake, because they accidentally misinterpret what you’re saying.


Iron manning

An iron man argument is similar to a straw man argument, except that it’s used in order to strengthen your own claims. Essentially, you would use it the same way you would use a straw man (i.e. by misrepresenting an original stance), but this time it’s in order to make your own point easier to defend.

One of the most prominent ways to do this is by using vague statements that are easy to agree with, even if they don’t have much to do with your actual point. For example, let’s go back to Senator B, who’s arguing against legalizing medical marijuana for patients. Instead of talking about the issue at hand directly, Senator B can say the following: “I just want what everybody wants: to do the right thing, and make life better for the American people. Following our moral compass takes courage in hard times, but only if we remain steadfast in our beliefs will we be able to prosper and grow strong together”.

Senator B didn’t say anything that is directly related to the topic at hand. He didn’t discuss facts, and didn’t argue directly against anything his opponent said. Instead, he made abstract statements that almost anyone would agree with, and adopted this vague agenda as his stance. Now, instead of arguing against a specific topic like the legalization of medical marijuana, he’s arguing in favor of “doing the right thing” and “following our moral compass”, which is much easier for him to defend.


Summary and conclusions

  • A straw man argument is when someone misrepresents their opponent’s view, in order to make it easier to attack.
  • This occurs through tactics such as overgeneralization, or quoting things out of context.
  • Once you recognize this technique, it’s possible to counter it. This usually occurs by pointing out the straw man and asking your opponent to justify why your original stance and their distorted stance are the same. However, you can also choose to ignore your opponent’s attempt at using a straw man, or to simply accept it and continue the discussion.
  • You can use this technique yourself, or you can use a similar version (iron manning), to make your own arguments easier to defend.
  • This technique is relatively effective on uninterested listeners, but can be problematic if the audience is invested in the debate.


How to Win at Arm Wrestling and Avoid Injury

A picture of an arm wrestling match.


Arm wrestling is often used as a trial of strength. However, while physical strength does matter, most people have no idea how to utilize it effectively, especially in this context. Improving your technique by adhering to the following guidelines can give you an advantage in arm wrestling, and allow you to beat significantly stronger opponents.

Note that the more of these tips you follow, the greater your advantage will be. However, even following a few of them can be highly beneficial.


Body position

  • If you’re competing with your right arm, stand with the right foot forward (and vice versa).
  • Stand close to the table, so that your arm is near your body.
  • Keep your core muscles tight.


Hand position

  • Try to rotate your hand over your opponent’s, so that your forearm is in prone position.
  • Twist your wrist towards your body. (Together with the previous tip, this is known as a toproll).
  • Curl your thumb and get it underneath your own fingers for a better grip.
  • Climb “up” with your hand over the opponent’s hand by moving your fingers forward and re-gripping.
  • Keep a tight grip throughout.


Overall technique

  • Start tensing your muscles before the contest starts (but don’t cheat by starting to apply pressure on your opponent early).
  • Arm wrestling is about pulling, not pushing. Make a pulling motion with your hand, and move the opponent’s hand away from them and towards you.
  • Apply force with your back and shoulders, not just your arm muscles (again, using a pulling motion).
  • Rotate your shoulder and body in the direction you want your opponent’s arm to go.


The mental aspect

If the two of you are closely matched, the winner could be the one who hangs on longer, and who doesn’t give up. So, if you feel you’re getting tired, keep in mind that your opponent is likely feeling the same. Appear confident for as long as possible, and try to look like you can keep going all day.


The dangers of arm wrestling (the ‘break arm’ position)

Arm wrestling can lead to all sorts of injuries, the most common being a humeral fracture, which essentially means that the bone in your upper arm snaps in half.


An x-ray of a humerus that broke during an arm-wrestling match.


However, you can reduce the risk of injury by avoiding the ‘break arm’ position. To do so, keep your arm perpendicular to your chest, and your shoulder in line with your arm. You should be able to look directly at your hand as it moves.

In the following picture, the person on the left is in the dangerous break arm position. Conversely, the person on the right is at the appropriate position, which protects his arm and minimizes the risk of injury. In fact, in some professional matches, the referees might stop the match if one of the contestants is too far from the appropriate position, and too close to the break arm position.


A picture showing the dangerous break arm position in an arm-wrestling match.


Summary and conclusions

  • Using proper technique can give you an advantage in arm wrestling.
  • Try to keep your hand near your body, and pull your opponent’s hand away from him.
  • Get your hand on top of your opponent’s hand, and curl it towards yourself.
  • Pull not only with your hand, but also using your back muscles.
  • To reduce the risk of injury while arm wrestling, avoid the break arm position by keeping your arm perpendicular to your body and in line with your shoulder.