Can We Learn through Subtitles?

As more and more options are provided to us in our attempts to learn languages, it seems that with each option new obstacles arise; thus making it more complicated for someone who may wish to learn languages on their own time.

As I wished to learn Spanish, I thought I would turn to watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles and also watching English movies with Spanish subtitles so that I could pick up on different ways our phrases and idioms are translated. This I think is something that is harder to learn in a classroom or by just watching shows or movies in Spanish as it will not be readily evident to non-native speakers when an idiom is being used and what an equivalent English idiom would be, if  any. Talk about getting lost in translation…

Upon working this angle of self-teaching, I found it odd that there appeared to be a lot of words in Spanish subtitles that simply do not appear in everyday spoken Spanish, thus bringing to my attention the written vs the spoken aspects of this language (or common vs more literary). A prime example for this would be the use of the verb suceder. This verb takes the place of the all- too-common verb, pasar, when writing papers, subtitles, etc. It took me some time to realize this as I was caught off guard every time that I saw this word pop up in Spanish subtitles of movies and shows. Upon further research, it became clear it was replacing the colloquial pasar. Another example, and one which may be more of a regional example in subtitles created for a Mexican audience, is the word platicar, better known to students of Spanish and most Spanish speakers outside this region as the verb hablar or even charlar.

Is it important to learn these words or should we just ignore them? From personal experience I think they serve very little purpose if your goal is to just speak and get by. However, if you wish to have a more comprehensive understanding of Spanish, it is something to keep in mind as you will come across words like these all the time in everyday papers, magazines, and subtitles.