Subtitled Programs Can Improve TOEFL scores by 77 points

Source: Arturo Bris (2009 study co-author) website

Study’s Abstract:

We study the influence of television translation techniques on the quality of the English spoken across the EU and OCDE.  We identify a large positive effect for subtitled original version as opposed to dubbed television, which loosely corresponds to between four and twenty years of compulsory English education at school.

We also show that the importance of subtitled television is robust to a wide array of specifications. We then fi…nd that subtitling and better English skills have an infl‡uence on high-tech exports, international student mobility, and other economic and social outcomes.


We therefore provide empirical evidence that, ceteris paribus, English is better in countries where television is in original version with subtitles. The magnitude of the subtitling effect is very large, corresponding to between four and twenty years of English learning at school, and the interaction effects indicate some complementarity between subtitling and formal learning. Pupils in countries where there are subtitles benefit more from their English classes.

VII Conclusions

The general message in this paper is simple.

Subtitled original version …fiction provides continuous exposure to foreign languages. The US is by far the largest producer of …fiction programmes shown around the world, so when someone watches a television fi…lm in original version, it is very likely that the language source will be English.

Subtitled television programmes then improve the English skills of the viewers, and, thus, the citizens of countries where …films are shown in original version speak better English than those where television is dubbed.

We show that dubbing and subtitling countries do not differ signifi…cantly in wealth per capita or length of formal English education. Yet there are striking differences in their English skills.   Subtitling countries score 77 points higher in the TOEFL, and obtain 23 points more in the EU Survey of English proficiency.

We show in panel regressions that the differences in English skill can be significantly explained by the …film translation method used in the country. We identify an effect equivalent to between four and twenty years of English education at school. Our results are robust to the inclusion of other determinants of English skill, like wealth or economic development.


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