In an increasingly globalized environment, where viewers consume more foreign audiovisual content than ever, Kruger, Doherty, and Soto-Sanfiel’s study tackles an important issue. When viewers engage materials composed of foreign languages, subtitles become the necessary tool for communicating meaning over the language barrier. But do subtitles, commonly presumed as distraction, in fact lessen the enjoyment of such materials?
“Original Language Subtitles: Their Effects on the Native and Foreign Viewer” concludes that subtitles do not significantly reduce immersion; not only did they not act as distraction to the viewers, they on the other hand increased transportation [to fictional reality], character identification, and perceived realism. Such result is agreeable since subtitles are attached to the characters’ faces which, even if they demand additional visual attention from the viewers, only strengthen identification.
There is, however, a serious limitation of this study that may affect how generalizable the results are to audiovisual narratives in general. The study employs the American investigative medical drama series, House, MD (2011), as audiovisual material for viewing. This could be limiting due to the nature of television drama. This form of audiovisual narrative advances its plot mainly through dialogue. And since subtitles are within the province of the dialogue and only direct more attention to it, viewers are bound to have higher immersion. Conversely, feature length films tend to rely more on visual elements to make meaning and advance the narrative. In this regard, subtitles, now a competitor of visual attention, would be driving viewers away from the narrative.
The authors are sensible of this limitation and have stated in brief such concern in the last section. Considering this is such an important study in a globalized setting, this limitation shall be treated with extra attention.