Enjoying Foreign Films with English Subtitles

In preparation for a family vacation to Cuba this spring, I began studying a little Spanish. I had heard a lot of good things about Duolingo, so I decided to give the language learning app a try. Having studied a little Spanish in university, I was pleased that some basic vocabulary came back to me quite quickly while doing my daily language exercise. My kids learned a few useful words too (and they enjoyed watching Mom study).

One lazy evening in our hotel in Cuba, we turned on the TV. The kids wanted to watch something in English, but I reminded them we were in a foreign country and needed to have foreign experiences (including a week with no Wi-Fi). We came across a film in Spanish and I had the kids in stitches as I pretended to translate.

The weekend after we returned from our vacation, my son and I stretched out on our couch and searched for a Netflix movie to watch. We stumbled across a film about orcas (my son’s favorite sea creature) but didn’t realize the film was in Spanish until it began. While I was thrilled to continue my language learning, my son was a bit disappointed and thought he wouldn’t be able to follow along. We grabbed his stuffed orca to cuddle with and let the movie play.

Though I don’t know how much Spanish I actually retained by watching El Faro de las Orcas, I felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment. I actually understood a lot of the Spanish words. More importantly, my son, who is a similar age to the boy in the film, spent two hours reading in order to follow along.

When the film was over, we had a rich discussion. My son felt he had a better understanding about what life is like for autistic kids and their parents. At school, on the ice, and in our circle of friends and family, he has been exposed to many kids on the spectrum, and this film helped us talk about all of these kids and how they have different coping mechanisms. Having just spent a week by the sea, we also talked about why the ocean might have a calming effect on those that have difficulty in social situations. We also discussed other issues, such as child custody and environmental regulations. And we discussed what might have happened afterward and whether or not the film was too far-fetched to be based on a true story.

The fact that El Faro de las Orcas was in Spanish did not affect my son’s understanding or enjoyment of it. In fact, he has already recommended it to some of his friends. Perhaps I’ve stumbled on a new way to encourage more reading (and foreign language learning) in our house.

Which foreign film should we watch next?

in stitches: laughing uncontrollably


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