This may or may not be a series of posts. It might just be a series of one.
I watch TV with subtitles where I can. I find it easier.
It doesn’t detract from the visual experience. Rather, it enhances it with more understanding. Sometimes I do find myself more absorbed in ‘reading’ the show than ‘watching’ it, but that isn’t less enjoyable.
Without subtitles, I tend to get lost. It’s hard to describe because my hearing is very good, but at the same time annoyingly bad. Where it gets particularly bad is in dialogue. Subtitles allow me to clearly understand dialogue without having the volume up at a ridiculous level. Low, deep toned speech seems hardest to understand.
I’m also terrible with accents, which makes me feel incredibly racist. I get especially anxious around foreign doctors, taxi drivers, bus drivers–anyone that I need to be able to communicate with that doesn’t speak the same variety of English as I do. I have less trouble with American and British accents, unless they’re particularly thick or a variation not common in media.
It’s embarrassing to have to ask someone to repeat themselves several times. Sometimes I say I’m deaf in one ear, because that feels nicer than admitting that I find their accent tricky to understand. I know that many people who speak English as a second language are already sensitive about whether they can be understood.
If I don’t understand them the third time, and it’s not critical… I just go with my best guess. Laugh, nod, give the right indicators that I understood.
I do avoid doctors with accents. How good the doctor is isn’t relevant, if I don’t feel I can understand and be understood I won’t book a second appointment. In that situation I need to be sure that communication is clear.
I skirt around the tricky business of communicating an address to a foreign taxi driver by using the iPhone application to book my ride. I can put my destination address in and the driver has that on-screen with a GPS map. They know exactly where I want to go–and with the critical details sorted we’re free to chat. I love chatting to my taxi drivers, even if I don’t always understand what they’re saying back to me.
It’s a bit like hearing a baby talk, actually. Sounds that you know are supposed to be words but all you hear is noise. Usually I can guess via context, but not always.
TV, at least, lets me read along with the dialogue and know what is being said. Drives me crazy when the speech and subtitles don’t match! Even in shows with clear accents I do understand better, I can pick up on subtle themes and stories much better if I’m reading the dialogue rather than listening.
So that’s why my Netflix profile is set to Subtitles: On. Now you know.