Subtitles to understand others?

By Sara Valle-Martínez

When you move into the country, the cultural shock includes food, weather, and language amongst many others. Going out with the friends you make in your brand-new life can increase the feeling of living in a different reality if you can’t communicate.

It is estimated that 1.5 billion people speak English worldwide, but only 400 millions of these people use it as their first language. This means that, probably, the person sitting next to you in the cinema speaks more than one language. But they may also struggle understanding the characters and plots.

London is a melting pot with inhabitants from all over the world. That’s why some cinemas like Odeon Luxe in Holloway Road offer screenings with original subtitles. There’s no reason for feeling like captions are only for the brainy ones. They can also be an incredible learning tool.

Odeon Luxe @ Holloway Road. Photo by Sara Valle-Martinez.

Charita Phaengsakol, 25, a corporate receptionist living in London, experienced the language barrier issue. She moved to the UK from Thailand when she was a teenager. Making friends was hard and she recalls feeling isolated and thankful that she could rely on her family.

She said: “It was very difficult to understand. Most of the times the cinemas didn’t have subtitles, or I had to go at a specific time, which made it hard to make plans. When I got here, [my family and I] would avoid going to the cinema and stick with watching something at home.”

Odeon Luxe Holloway offers all their movie listings with open captions at least once a week. Many are not even aware that their local movie theatre does. Whilst open captions are aimed at hard-of-hearing or deaf audience, they also help those who are learning the language.

Alexandra Ferrera @ Odeon Luxe in Holloway Road. Photo by Sara Valle-Martínez.

Alexandra Ferrera, 27, a credit controller working in London, had a similar experience. Her parents are Filipino, but she was born in Italy and moved to Spain when she was only a child. She remembers feeling like her brain was “scrambled” with all the languages mixed.

According to the House of Commons Library, the amount of immigrants living in London is double to those living in other cities in the UK. Some of them have the chance to ready themselves before making the leap of faith. Some others, like Phaengsakol and Ferrera, learn on the go.

“I [struggled] when I was a child, because it was difficult to understand English,” said Ferrera, while she waited to watch the newest Spiderman movie. “Subtitles would be good even now, even if I speak the language though, to learn how they pronounce the words.

“There’re still times when there are words that I can’t understand and if you see how they’re spelled you can look them up and learn. I think it’s great that cinemas offer this. It would have been super helpful.”

Almost all the cinemas in the Greater London area offer viewers the chance of watching their favourite movies with subtitles. Many are not even aware that their local movie theatre does. Websites like help people find the closest one.

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