I'm new to ELL, but I have spent a reasonable amount of time at Stack Overflow, where https://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/8677/improving-english-language-by-watching-movies would probably be closed as "primarily opinion-based".

Does the same apply to ELL? It seems a useful question to me, but I'm not sure what the consensus is here.

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    From linguistic point of view, I believe there should be a practical answer to this question. It is not about preference, it is technical issue. – Googlebot Aug 3 '13 at 15:02
  • If the community doesn't feel like that question should remain open on the main site, perhaps it could be migrated to meta and reopened. I believe this community would be interested in that question, particularly with a blend of academic answers such as the one snailboat posted, along with real-world experiences, such as the one Stoney posted. – J.R. Aug 4 '13 at 10:13
  • @J.R. Don't migrate it on the meta site: It is not a repository for garbage questions. Doing so would just get users to ask more questions like those, and then ask for them to be migrated here. – kiamlaluno Aug 18 '13 at 6:27
  • @k: I've seen a lot of "garbage" questions, but I don't feel that question falls into that category. It might have to be altered a little bit, so that, instead of inquiring solely about movies, it asked about techniques for improving English. That could become a resource we could point others to, when similar questions are asked in the future (as is bound to happen). When I made my comment, I was imagining something similar to this ELU meta post. – J.R. Aug 18 '13 at 9:10

I think your instinct is right and the question will probably be closed.

Whether it ought to be closed is tricky.

As you say, it's a useful question, and one about which many of our users would like to be informed.

On the other hand, it is also a question which invites anecdotal responses - "This is how I do it" or "This didn't work for me." Such answers are not exactly "opinion-based", but they're "experience-based" and their utility may be significantly qualified by answerers individual talents and opportunities.

And that raises the question, How is the user to judge which answers are good and relevant? You can't judge by "reputation", because the people with the highest reputation around here (and the people most likely to answer) are generally not people who have learned or are learning English as a foreign language - they're native speakers, so they can't offer much in the way of relevant experience.

Experienced teachers of English, or people familiar with the pedagogical literature, could provide "authoritative" and documented answers. But we don't have a lot of those folks around here - at least we don't yet.

So for the time being I think we have to fall back on the SE standard and close these questions as really not suited to the SE format - and hope that eventually we'll have enough people engaged here that such questions can be helpfully referred to Chat.

  • I agree that it's likely to attract anecdotal answers - mine would be "this is what worked for me learning Spanish". On a tangent: how many active members here are multilingual native English speakers? I'd imagine the site would attract such people. – user2098 Aug 3 '13 at 14:53
  • I'm not looking for sharing experiences, but a specialized opinion from pedagogical point of view. – Googlebot Aug 3 '13 at 15:04
  • @All Unfortunately opinion based answers don't fit with the SE format. :( – WendiKidd Aug 3 '13 at 18:00
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    @WendiKidd I think an "opinion" backed by evidence would be acceptable: there's a huge difference between "personal opinion" and "expert opinion" supported by evidence. Perhaps we should distinguish "opinion" from "judgment" :) – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 3 '13 at 18:18
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    @StoneyB Very true. If answers were backed up by sufficient research, they would indeed be valid. Hmm. Maybe there's a middle ground here; don't close them as POB, but also don't let anyone with an opinion post an answer. Require that answers use empirical, citable data to back up their position. (Of course then you've got to make sure all questions like these emphasize that, and police the answers.) Hmm. Definitely something to continue discussing. – WendiKidd Aug 3 '13 at 19:26
  • Stoney, interesting digression, but I cannot imagine an expert who is able to answer whether English subtitles are useful or not! – user114 Aug 3 '13 at 23:22
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    @Carlo_R. Have you read the article linked in snailboat's comment at the question? That's clearly an "expert" inquiry into the subject. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 4 '13 at 1:12

Probably the most influential researcher in Second Language Acquisition over the last 30 years is Stephen Krashen. One of his hypotheses is the Comprehension Hypothesis. It states that learners acquire language when they are exposed to input at i+1, where i is the current state or stage of language proficiency. Learners use their existing acquired linguistic competence together with their general world knowledge to make sense of the messages they receive in language just beyond where they currently are (the +1). Given input at i+1, acquisition will take place effortlessly and involuntarily. Comprehensible input is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for SLA.

All but the most proficient learners are likely to find English language films fall in the range way beyond i+1, and therefore not at the optimal level for learning. There is evidence from the following study that subtitles (closed captioning) can bring the input into the range where language acquisition takes place:


  • what does it mean i+1 ? – Theta30 Aug 3 '13 at 21:36
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    @Theta, I think "i" are you and "1" is one who speaks English better than you :) – user114 Aug 3 '13 at 23:15
  • @Carlo_R I think that means one who speaks English just a bit more better than you. If that would be the case, I hypothesize that that happens not only with language learning, but with any kind of learning – Theta30 Aug 3 '13 at 23:17
  • @Theta, I'm not sure, maybe other kinds of learning processes require an exposure to i+10, or i+100, as it happen in quantum mechanics, which is a thing that cannot be gradually learned. – user114 Aug 3 '13 at 23:44
  • I admire Krashen (although by no means uncritically), and this certainly accords with my own experience as a learner of languages and other subjects. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 4 '13 at 1:44
  • @Theta, i stands for your current proficiency in the language you are learning. i+1 is how you can conceptualise input (what you hear and what you read) that is mostly comprehensible to you but contains some vocabulary and grammatical constructions that you have not yet internalised. I know some Russian and am a keen chess player. If I watch a video in Russian showing and discussing the moves in a game I will understand enough to learn one or two new words or phrases and perhaps a bit of grammar - particularly if I watch it several times. – Shoe Aug 4 '13 at 6:46
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    ... If, on the other hand, I listen to a podcast on nuclear fission in Russian, I am unlikely to understand or learn anything at all. The input would be at i+10. Here is an explanation of Krashen's input hypothesis, as well as his other 4 hypotheses of second language acquistion: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Input_Hypothesis – Shoe Aug 4 '13 at 6:49
  • I would imagine that the i+1 idea applies to any type of learning, not just languages. It seems pretty universal to me. – p.s.w.g Aug 8 '13 at 1:25
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    @p.s.w.g. Indeed. This is a similar concept to Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. – Shoe Aug 8 '13 at 4:52

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