When subtitles lead foreign lives

By Sara Valle-Martínez

Cinemas were left empty when the pandemic hit and, as news streaming services emerged, people forgot about the big screens.

As society is coming back to leading normal lives again and cinemas get full of hungry popcorn eaters and avid movie watchers, the question remains: are cinemas better than Netflix? Sometimes that’s down to the offers and, most importantly, to how they can accommodate guests.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

When you move into the country, the cultural shock does include 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 really talk to them.

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.

It is estimated that 1.5 billion people speak English worldwide, but only a third are native speakers. This means that, probably, the person sitting next to you in the cinema speaks more than one language. They may also struggle understanding the characters and plots.

Odeon Luxe @ Holloway Road, London. Photo by Sara Valle-Martínez.

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.

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, 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.

Alexandra Ferrera. Photo by Sara Valle-Martínez.

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

According to the House of Commons Library, the number 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 think it’s great that cinemas offer [subtitles]. 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 yourlocalcinema.com help people find the closest one.

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