Learning a new language through immersion doesn’t mean you have to pack your bags and move to Europe for three months. Now, you just need to turn on Netflix. Language Learning with Netflix is a Chrome extension that lets you watch shows with two subtitles on at the same time so you can visually pair translations with dialogue and learn some new vocabulary in the process. It’s a clever service that makes use of Netflix’s massive catalog and all of the major languages in which it already offers subtitles, including Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.
The extension was created by developers David Wilkinson and Ognjen Apic who experimented with making their own language learning software before collaborating on Language Learning with Netflix. “For some languages (Farsi, for example), there’s only a limited amount of learning materials available,” Wilkinson said in an email. “I think a lot of people would enjoy studying a language with material they are already familiar with.”
The tool works best as a supplement for people who already have some basic understanding of the language they’re learning. There’s a vocabulary-highlighting feature that grays out less common words, which is adjustable to match your vocabulary level. Hovering over a word produces a pop-up dictionary, and clicking the word lets you hear it. You can also slow down the dialogue or automatically pause playback at the end of every subtitle, so you can learn line by line. There’s even a catalog of recommendations for movies and shows that are good to study.
The Chrome extension is free to use, but Wilkinson and Apic are planning to add more features, like additional subtitles for dubbed dialogue, which would only be available for paid users. “Netflix has alternative audio tracks for many well-known series, but the subtitles in other languages don’t match the audio,” Wilkinson said. “We’re considering creating new subtitles for these alternative audio tracks, so you could study German, for example, with Breaking Bad with matching German audio and subtitles.”
One of the few downsides is that the tool only works on Google Chrome, so you can’t use it with your Netflix app on tablets or streaming services like Roku or Apple TV. Hopefully, the service can make its way beyond browsers soon because it’s obvious that the potential for language learning through media is huge. Viki, a streaming service for Asian dramas, implemented a “Learn Mode” in 2017 that essentially does the same thing by showing two subtitles at once. The developers say they haven’t contacted Netflix yet, but “the project could likely go faster and further with their support.”