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. One of the best ways to do this is 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, in terms of the type of subtitles that you use, could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your learning process.

In the following article, we will see which subtitles are most effective, and how the choice of which subtitles to use varies based on which stage you’re at in the learning process.


Foreign-language subtitles vs. Native-language subtitles

In general, studies show that it’s better to use foreign-language subtitles when you’re watching foreign-language material (as opposed to native-language subtitles), though the benefits of doing this only extend to some aspects of the learning process. 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 they were after watching English material with Dutch subtitles.
  • English-speaking students who were learning Spanish had a slightly greater improvement in vocabulary recognition after watching Spanish films using Spanish subtitles, compared to students who watched the Spanish films with English subtitles. They also enjoyed watching the films more, and connected with the material better.
  • Turkish college students who were learning English did not experience any significant improvement in their listening comprehension after watching an English video using English subtitles compared to watching it with Turkish subtitles.

Overall, it appears that 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.

Specifically, while foreign-language subtitles tend to lead to better learning outcomes for most people, students who are just beginners might struggle with them. As such, if you have only a limited proficiency in your target language, it might be better for you to use subtitles in your native language first, until you feel comfortable with having both the audio and the subtitles in the foreign language.


Other types of subtitles

So far, we discussed the two most common schemes which are used when viewing foreign-language material; these consist of an audio/soundtrack in the foreign language, together with subtitles in the foreign language or in the native language.

Next, we will see two other types of viewing schemes, which are less-commonly used, but still worth considering, since they can be valuable in your learning process.


Reverse subtitles

Reverse subtitles are subtitles in the foreign language, which appear together with a soundtrack in the native language. In some areas of language learning, such as vocabulary learning, these subtitles can be preferable to native-language subtitles on a foreign-language soundtrack.

Reverse subtitles are especially beneficial if you’re a beginner, since they can help you get exposure to your target language in a comfortable environment, where you don’t feel overwhelmed by constantly struggling to understand what the characters are saying.

In addition, they are beneficial since they offer a great way to get some relatively passive exposure to your target language; just enable the foreign-language subtitles while watching your regular shows, and you’ll notice yourself using them more and more, as you manage to pick up bigger units of texts.

Furthermore, another important advantage of reverse subtitles is that it’s 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.

However, the disadvantage of reverse subtitles is that using them means that you’re not developing your proficiency in several important areas of the language, and especially in terms of your listening skills. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use these subtitles at all, but it does mean that they can’t be the only type of subtitles that you use throughout the learning process.

Overall, reverse subtitles can be beneficial, but it’s important to keep their limitations in mind. If you’re a beginner, they offer a great way to achieve exposure to your target language in a comfortable environment that encourages things such as vocabulary acquisition. However, because using them means that you’re not exposed to the sounds of your foreign language, as your language proficiency grows, you should starting using other types of subtitles too.


Dual subtitles

Dual subtitles are subtitles that use a foreign-language soundtrack, together with subtitles in both the foreign and the native language. This means that these subtitles provide the most information out of all types of subtitles. This can be advantageous, by giving you as a learner more valuable input, but the problem is that there is often not enough time to process all this input while watching a show.

One way to deal with this is to stick with looking at either the foreign-language or native-language subtitles exclusively, and then refer to the other type of subtitles only in specific cases, where you need a translation. For example, this means that if you’re focusing on the foreign-language subtitles, then you will likely look at the native-language subtitles only in cases where you need a translation for a certain word or phrase.

Note that some platforms offer a special type of dual subtitles, where you only see the foreign-language subtitles normally, but hovering over a specific word shows you its native-language translation, while pausing the show.

Overall, this type of subtitles can be highly valuable, as long as you can find a platform where it works well, and as long as using it doesn’t cause you to feel overwhelmed while watching your show.


Other considerations to choosing which subtitles to use

First, it’s important to keep in mind the fact that the earlier you are at the language-acquisition process, the more input in the native language you’re probably going to need. As you improve your proficiency in the target language, you will be able to handle more foreign-language input, but as with any other type of learning, this is a process that takes time.

In addition, it’s important to remember that there is a lot of variation in people’s personal preferences. This means that different people learn in different ways, and can benefit more from using different materials. As such, when choosing which subtitles to use, experiment and try different things, until you find the solution that works best for you.

Finally, remember that the most important factor to consider with regards to choosing which subtitles to use is your motivation to engage in the learning process. If you won’t engage with material in the target language, then you won’t be able to learn it.

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. At the same time, however, be aware that language learning can be difficult sometimes, and that eventually you need to advance to the more complex material, even if it seems scary at first.


Summary and conclusions

  • If you’re watching movies, TV shows, or any other material in your target foreign language, it’s generally better to watch it with subtitles than without them.
  • Foreign-language subtitles are generally a slightly more effective study aid than native-language subtitles. However, if you’re a beginner, you’re probably going to need subtitles in the native language at first, until you get to a stage where you can cope with having both the soundtrack and the subtitles be in the foreign language.
  • Two other helpful types of subtitles are reverse subtitles, where foreign-language subtitles appear together with a native-language soundtrack, and dual subtitles, where the foreign-language soundtrack appears together with subtitles in both the foreign and the native language.
  • Your choice of subtitles will likely change over time, as your foreign-language proficiency grows. In addition, different people prefer different types of subtitles, so experiment to see what works for you.
  • When it comes to learning, the main thing you should focus on is increasing the time spent engaging with material in your foreign language. As such, when it comes to choosing which subtitles to use, pick the ones that increase your motivation to watch things in your foreign language, since the more material you watch, the more you will learn.


Straw Man Arguments: What They Are and How to Counter Them

Strawman argument


A straw man argument is a rhetoric technique where someone distorts their opponent’s argument, in order to make it easier to attack. By doing this, the person using the strawman pretends to refute their opponent’s argument, while in reality they refute a different argument, that does not accurately portray their opponent’s original stance.

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”.

Because strawman arguments are so prevalent, it’s important to thoroughly understand them. In the following article, you will learn more about how strawman arguments work, and about how you can counter them, or use them yourself.


What is a strawman argument

A straw man argument is a rhetoric technique where someone distorts their opponent’s argument, in order to make it easier to attack.

The use of a strawman argument usually consists of the following three stages:

  • First, person A states their position.
  • Then, person B presents a distorted version of person A’s original position, while pretending that there’s no difference between the two versions.
  • Finally, person B attacks the distorted version of person A’s position, and acts as if this invalidates person A’s original argument.

Essentially, instead of arguing against the original stance, person B creates a strawman, which is easier for them to attack. This means that there is a logical flaw in the premise of person B’s argument, and namely the fact that they are arguing against a distorted version of their opponent’s original argument.

As such, the strawman fallacy is considered to be a type of an informal logical fallacy, and specifically a type of a relevance fallacy, since the person using it is attacking a stance that is not directly relevant to the discussion at hand.


Example of a strawman argument

The following is a typical example of a strawman argument in political discourse:

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 just let everyone do drugs whenever they want, crime rates will increase drastically.

In this example, Senator B uses a strawman argument, by misrepresenting Senator A’s stance on two key points:

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

In doing this, Senator B makes it much easier for himself to attack his opponent.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter whether Senator B’s overall claim is true or not (i.e. that if everyone had free access to drugs, then crime rates will increase drastically). It’s entirely possible for an argument to be logically fallacious, and still have a correct conclusion.

However, even if that was the case, it doesn’t change the fact that Senator B’s argument is a gross and fallacious misrepresentation of Senator A’s stance, which is why it should not have been used in the first place.


How to recognize strawman arguments

Strawman arguments are common in debates on various topics, and can appear in a wide range of forms, such as:

  • Oversimplifying, generalizing, or exaggerating an opponent’s argument, and then attacking the new, weaker version.
  • Focusing on one specific part of an opponent’s argument, while ignoring everything else that they say (a technique known as cherry picking).
  • Quoting parts of an 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 themself.
  • Similarly, if the opponent is part of a group, then it’s possible to focus on the weakest members of that group and refute their stance, while pretending that this is what the entire group believes.

In addition to these common ways of using strawman arguments, there are various other methods of distorting people’s arguments, ranging from minor distortions to outright fabrications. However, all of these techniques have the same thing in common: they involve someone distorting their opponent’s stance, in order to make it easier for them to attack.

As such, strawman arguments are relatively simple to recognize in discourse. Essentially, when you realize that there is a mismatch between someone’s stance and the stance that their opponent is attacking, it’s a clear sign that a strawman argument is being used.


How to counter strawman arguments

A good way to minimize your vulnerability to the strawman fallacy in the first place is to use clear and definite language, with as little room for misinterpretations as possible. This makes it more difficult for your opponent to distort your stance, and makes it easier for you to correct them if they attempt to do so.

However, while this reduces the risk of someone using a strawman argument against you, nothing can prevent someone from using this type of argument if they truly want to. Therefore, it’s important to know how to counter strawman arguments, which you can do using one of the following three methods:

  • Point out the straw man- call your opponent out on their use of a strawman, by explaining why their argument is fallacious, and how it distorts your original stance. You can put them on the defensive by asking them to justify why they believe that their distorted argument is the same as the original one; since the two arguments are different, they will either be forced to admit their use of a strawman, or they will try to justify it by using even more fallacious reasoning, which you can attack.
  • Ignore the strawman- you can choose to ignore the distorted version of your argument that your opponent presents, and continue to simply advocate for your original position. This can be effective in some cases, but if they continue to focus on the strawman, you may have to use one of the two other methods mentioned here.
  • Accept the strawman- in some cases, it might be necessary or preferable for you to accept a strawman when you’re defending your stance, meaning that instead of arguing in favor of your original stance, you now start defending the distorted version of your stance, as presented by your opponent. Keep in mind, however, that the longer you go down this route, the more difficult it will be to go back and point out your opponent’s fallacious reasoning, since by not saying anything against the strawman you appear to accept it as your own stance.

Overall, since a strawman argument is fallacious because it distorts the stance that it argues against, the logically correct way to counter it is to point out this distortion. This is also the most effective choice for countering the strawman in most cases, though the two other options, namely ignoring the strawman or accepting it, can also be helpful in some situations.


Accounting for crowds and perception

Often, strawman arguments are used in debates that are viewed by a group of people. This is important to take into consideration when countering a strawman, because it can affect the way you choose to react to the strawman.

Essentially, when arguing in front of a crowd, your focus is often on persuading the crowd, rather than persuading your opponent; this is why people often use the logically fallacious strawman arguments in the first place.

As such, when it comes time to choose which technique to use in order to counter the strawman, consider which technique will appeal the most to the appeal in the crowd, rather than just thinking about which technique will help you deal with your opponent.


Accounting for the unintentional use of strawman arguments

Keep in mind that the use of a strawman argument can sometimes be unintentional. This is because, in some cases, people distort their opponent’s stance because they misunderstand it, rather than because they want to make it easier to attack.

This is important to remember when it’s time to interpret your opponent’s arguments, and when you need to counter any strawman arguments that they make. Accordingly, you generally want to start by asking your opponent to justify their use of the strawman, instead of just attacking them for their fallacious reasoning.

Doing this is beneficial not only because it promotes more friendly discourse, but because it also increases the likelihood that the other person will see the problem with their reasoning and accept their mistake. Remember that if you simply attack a person for their opinion, they will often continue to support it, even if they realize that they were wrong all along.


Using strawman arguments yourself

First of all, remember that you might be using strawman arguments unintentionally. If you identify cases where this happens, and specifically instances where you distort your opponent’s view in order to make it easier for you to attack, try to highlight this distortion in your mind, and correct it before approaching their argument again.

One way to ensure that you’re not using a strawman is to try and re-express your opponent’s position, and then ask them whether they agree with your description before you start arguing against it. This is the best way to make sure that your opponent agrees with your formulation of their stance, and is the preferred way to engage in productive discourse.

There may be times where you might choose to use a strawman argument yourself, for whatever reason. However, keep in mind that while the use of the straw man technique is widespread, and while this technique can be persuasive in some cases, research suggests that using this type of argument is not always a beneficial strategy, aside from the obvious issues with using fallacious reasoning.

Specifically, a study on the topic showed that as a rhetorical technique, strawman arguments are useful only when the listeners have a low level of motivation to scrutinize the argument, meaning that they don’t care much about what’s being said. Conversely, when listeners are invested in the argument, the strawman technique is generally ineffective, and may even backfire by reducing the persuasiveness of the argument.


Variants of strawman arguments

Hollow-man arguments

hollow-man argument is a variant of the strawman, and involves inventing a weak fictitious position, and attributing it to a vaguely defined person or group who is supposed to represent the opposition, before knocking it down in an attempt to discredit your opponent.

A hollow-man argument can often be identified through the use of weasel words, which include phrases such as “some say that…”, that are not attributed to any specific person or group. This is because such phrases make the statement vague enough to be nearly impossible to refute, while absolving the speaker of any responsibility with regards to the truthfulness of their claims.


Iron-man arguments

An iron man argument is a variant of the strawman, and involves distorting your own stance in order to make it easier to defend. Essentially, an iron-man argument is used in the same way you would use a straw man (i.e. by misrepresenting an original stance), but this time it’s in order to strengthen your own stance, rather than to weaken your opponent’s stance.

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 consider 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 actually 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.

This means that 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.


Steel-man arguments

A steel-man argument is a variant of the strawman, and involves distorting your opponent’s argument in order to make it easier for them to defend, and more difficult for you to attack. Essentially, this means that you take your opponent’s original argument, and frame it in the best way possible before attacking it.

This is the suggested course of action under the principle of charity, which suggests that you should argue against the best possible interpretation of your opponent’s argument. In its ultimate version, doing this involves the following four steps, which were suggested by the famous philosopher Daniel Dennett, based on the work of psychologist Anatol Rapoport:

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

– From “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

Doing this has the similar benefits as giving your opponent the benefit of the doubt when it comes to whether or not their use of a strawman was intentional. As we saw above, doing this can lead to more productive discussions, by making your opponent more receptive to criticism, and more likely to change their opinion.

Note: some scholars use the term ‘iron-man argument’ to refer to any argument which distorts the original position in order to improve it. However, the distinction between iron-man and steel-man arguments is important to make, since the goals of the two types of arguments are markedly different. Specifically, while iron-man arguments are used in order to make it easier for you to defend your own stance, steel-man arguments make it more difficult for you to attack your opponent’s stance, meaning that the two types of arguments are used for very different reasons.


Summary and conclusions

  • A straw man argument is a rhetoric technique where someone distorts their opponent argument, in order to make it easier to attack.
  • There are various ways in which one can distort their opponent’s argument. Some of the more common ones include generalizing, oversimplifying, or exaggerating the original argument, focusing only on specific details in the original argument, quoting things out of context, and arguing against extreme opinions which are sometimes used to support the opponent’s stance, but which the opponent didn’t actually use.
  • Once you are capable of recognizing people’s use of strawman arguments, you can try to counter them. The main way to do this is 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.
  • When countering a straw man, keep in mind the possibility that the person using it is doing so unintentionally, simply because they misunderstand their opponent’s position. Taking this into account and asking your opponent to explain why they believe that the stance which they presented accurately represents the original stance can help you counter the strawman successfully, and makes it more likely that the other person will accept their mistake.
  • A common variant of the strawman argument is the hollow-man argument, which involves inventing a fictitious position, and attributing it to a vaguely defined person who is meant to represent the opposition. Two other notable variants are iron-man arguments, which involve distorting your own stance in order to make it easier to defend, and steel-man arguments, which involve distorting your opponent’s stance in order to make it harder to attack.


How to Win at Arm Wrestling and Avoid Injury

How to Win at Arm Wrestling and Avoid Injury


Arm wrestling is often used as a trial of strength, which is meant to ‘prove’ how strong you are. However, while physical strength does matter, most people have no idea how to utilize it effectively, especially in this context. This means that by making a few simple modifications to your technique, you should easily be able to win at arm wrestling, even when fighting against a stronger opponent.

In the following article, you will learn about some basic guidelines and techniques that you can use in order to gain a significant advantage in arm wrestling and reduce the risk of being injured. Note that the more of these tips you follow, the greater your advantage will be. However, even following just a few of them can be highly beneficial, especially in terms of protecting yourself from injury.


Tips for winning in arm wrestling

Basic arm-wrestling technique

Most people mistakenly believe that arm wrestling is just about applying side pressure to the other person’s arm, and trying to push it downwards. In reality however, proper arm wrestling technique involves a significant pulling motion, which isolates your opponent’s arm, and places it in a position where you can easily pin it.

Essentially, what you are trying to do is make a strong pulling motion, using your back and shoulders in addition to your arm, in order to get your opponent’s arm close to you and away from their body. Then, rotate your shoulder and body in the direction that you want your opponent’s arm to go, and apply downward pressure in order to finish them.


Proper body positioning and posture

To ensure that you use the right technique, you first want to make sure that your body is properly positioned. This involves doing the following things:

  • Stand so that your forward leg is on the same side as your competing hand. For example, if you’re competing with your right arm, then you should stand with your right foot forward.
  • Stand with your hip close to the table, so that your arm is near your body. This will help you use your whole body when making the pulling motion, rather than just your arm.
  • Once the contest is about to start, engage your core muscles and keep them ‘tight’. Doing this will help with the pulling motion, and will give you a minor boost in strength.


Advantageous hand position

In addition to positioning your body properly, you also want to get your hand to a position which gives you leverage over your opponent. This involves the following things:

  • Try to get your hand into a toproll position. This involves rotating your hand over your opponent’s, so that your forearm is in prone position, while simultaneously twisting your wrist towards your own body.
  • You can sort of ‘climb’ with your hand over your opponent’s hand by loosening your hold a bit, and then moving your fingers forward and gripping tightly again once you’ve advanced.
  • To help strengthen your grip, you can curl your thumb and try to get it underneath your own fingers.
  • Make sure to keep a tight grip throughout the match, but don’t overdo it so much that you tire out your hand. Your goal is to keep your muscles engaged and in control, but not to try and crush your opponent’s hand.


The mental aspect

If you and your opponent are closely matched in terms of strength and technique, then the winner could simply be the one who refuses to give up, which a lot of people do prematurely when they think that they’re about to lose, even if that’s not the case. As such, as long as you still have strength left, try to hang on, and keep the match going.

Remember that if you’re feeling tired, your opponent is likely feeling the same. This is where mind games come into play in arm wrestling. Essentially, you want to appear as confident as possible, even if you don’t feel confident in reality.

Your opponent likely won’t know how tired you are, but will probably assume that you can easily tell how tired they are. This occurs due to a cognitive bias which is known as the illusion of transparency, that causes people to think that their feelings are more obvious to others than they are in reality.

Overall, remember that feeling and looking confident can play a huge role in beating your opponent. At the same time, you should also hang on, and not give up prematurely, before you’ve actually been defeated.


The role of strength in arm wrestling

Strength does matter in arm wrestling, and when there is a big enough difference in terms of strength, no amount of technique could help you win. To take an extreme example, a professional adult bodybuilder is going to beat a 5-year-old kid at arm wrestling, no matter how good the kid’s technique is.

However, most situations won’t be as extreme as this one, and in most cases, the difference in strength between you and your opponent should be one that you can overcome by properly using the technical tips that you saw above.


Avoiding injuries in arm wrestling (the break arm position)

Unfortunately, like other sports, arm wrestling can lead to all sorts of injuries. The most common arm wrestling injury involves a humeral fracture, which essentially means that the bone in your upper arm snaps in half; you can see what that looks like in the picture below.


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


The obvious and most effective way to avoid the risk of this happening is to not arm wrestle in the first place. However, if you do choose to arm wrestle with someone, you can reduce the risk of injury by avoiding the ‘break arm’ position.

To avoid this position, you need to keep your arm in line with your shoulder, and perpendicular to your chest. This means that you should be able to look directly at your hand as it moves during the match.

In the picture below, the person on the left is in the dangerous break arm position, since his arm is rotated behind his shoulder, and is parallel to his chest, which is facing forward. Conversely, the person on the right is at the appropriate position, since his arm in line with his shoulder and perpendicular to his chest, which minimizes the risk of injury.

Accordingly, you can see that the person on the right (who is maintaining a good position) is looking straight at his hand, while the person on the left (who is at the dangerous break arm position) cannot maintain direct eye contact with his hand.


The dangerous 'break arm' position in an arm-wrestling match.


Maintaining the appropriate position is so important to protecting yourself from injury, that in some professional matches, the referee might stop the match if one of the contestants strays too far from this position, and gets too close to the break arm position.


Summary and conclusions

  • Strength is important in arm wrestling, but using proper technique can make a huge difference, and allow you to beat an opponent who is significantly stronger than you.
  • In terms of technique, the main thing you should focus on during the match is on making a pulling motion using your arm, shoulder, and back, in order to get your opponent’s hand away from his body in order to isolate it. Once their arm is sufficiently isolated and you’ve gained enough leverage, you can apply downward pressure on their hand in order to finish the match.
  • In terms of body position, you want to stand with the same foot forward as the hand that you’re competing with, while keeping your hip close to the table, so that your arm is near your body. In addition, make sure to engage your core muscles and keep them tense throughout the contest.
  • In terms of hand position, try to rotate your hand over your opponent’s hand, while twisting your wrist towards your own body. Make sure to maintain a tight grip throughout the match, but don’t crush your opponent’s hand so hard that you end up tiring out quickly.
  • To reduce the risk of injury while arm wrestling, avoid the ‘break arm’ position by keeping your arm in line with your shoulder and perpendicular to your body. If you’re in a good position, you should be able to look straight ahead at your arm, without twisting your head.