Growing up in Greece in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, with no Internet and very limited TV channels, especially when it came to foreign satellite networks, it was almost impossible to have an immersive English content experience and practice listening properly. By immersive, I mean no localization whatsoever. English content was available on TV, but it was subtitled in Greek. Thankfully, dubbing was a failure, so we stuck with the European countries that subtitled foreign films and TV shows instead. I still remember sticking pieces of paper at the bottom of the screen as a last resort, after failing to avoid reading the Greek subtitles. The bright white letters kept magnetizing my gaze.
Therefore, practicing listening to English was possible, but only partially. Watching a programme without translated subtitles or with English subtitles (for the hearing impaired) was a much harder task.
You would either have to buy a satellite dish and receiver (quite expensive back then) or, if you were lucky enough to own a VCR and find a video store that imported VHS tapes, rent some of those. I still remember the first imported VHS tape I ever watched: Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis. If you wanted English subtitles, which was the best way to immerse yourself as a young learner in the content, you had to buy a captioning device, that magically revealed the closed captions.
Later, in the late ‘90s, you could rent and watch DVDs with the subtitles turned off, but since most Greek localization was done in the cheapest way possible, all other subtitle languages were not included on the disc, leaving you with either Greek or nothing. Thankfully, some international productions came with a vast array of languages to choose from, but this was not available on the majority of titles. Later on, you could order films online from abroad, but this meant buying every single film - not a very affordable solution.
Fast forward to today, there is a much easier and cheaper way and I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s Netflix.
Netflix became available in Greece in January 2016. With a monthly subscription, you can gain access to all content available for the region. (Some restrictions apply, based on existing local media network licensing).
Depending on the subscription you choose, after a 30-day free trial, you can watch on one or two screens at the same time. And by screens, I mean a TV (either a “smart” one or through Apple TV, Chromecast or Playstation), a computer, a tablet or a smartphone. Apart from Netflix Originals, you can watch a variety of series and films, new and old. There is a special area with films for kids, with easier navigation. All of this content is being streamed to your devices and includes English subtitles, if you wish to enable them.
Greek subtitles are not available yet, but that’s alright when you’re learning English, right? A very cool feature is being able to pick up watching from where you left off. You can hit pause on the living room big screen and continue watching on your tablet in bed. A very important feature will soon become available too: Being able to store content offline on your tablet or smartphone, so you can watch your favourite films and shows when not at home or on vacation. This way, English learners can enjoy watching while practicing listening (and reading) all year long, even during the summer.
This piece was written having the Greek audience in mind. Netflix was the only subscription content service available at the time.
This post is part of the When EdTech Meets ELT series, my regular column for the TESOL Macedonia Thrace Northern Greece e-bulletin, and was originally published in June 2016.