Listening: radio, tv, subtitles vs no subtitles

I’m trying to improve my listening skills - because I understand almost nothing of fluent Welsh!
I noticed on the forum the advice is usually not to use subtitles or transcriptions.
I’m sure this helps to get the right sound or “music” of spoken language from native speakers.
But I have a few doubts and questions, based on my experience so far.

If I listen to a random clip on the radio for the first time, I understand just a few scattered words that I heard in the challenges or in the songs or among “words of the day” before.
I usually don’t even understand what the topic is, unless there happen to be enough Welsh words that sound almost like English or latin - which allow me at least to guess that.
If I listen to the same clip several times, maybe also after weeks…nothing changes.
Also, it’s almost impossible for me to keep my attention focused for more than 5 minutes and in general it’s very frustrating and exhausting!

A random TV clip of course is easier in general because

  1. I can see what’s going on and get helpful hints to guess the topic
  2. Dialogues and sentences are usually shorter that make them a bit easier to follow

In any case, without subtitles I don’t understand many more words than in radio clips - no matter how many times I repeat it.

With Welsh subtitles it’s worse: I waste all my attention and energy trying to follow them, but I don’t understand anything anyway. I can’t even recognize most of familiar words, when they’re written!

With English subtitles, instead:

  1. my attention doesn’t wander because I can understand what’s going on and it keeps me curious
  2. I’m able to catch several more familiar words and structures - because when I read the meaning, I know what to expect and it’s easier to hear/identify it.
  3. If they repeat a new word a few times, I often become able to recognize it from then on, also in other clips and without subtitles
  4. If I watch the clip again after a few days (without subtitles), I understand most of it - for recipes almost all of it.

I feel a big improvement - compared to the frustration of listening to the radio. And I’m talking about an average of 10-15 minutes a day of practice, not hours!

So what am I missing?
Why “no subtitles” would be preferred?

I live in London but very rarely listen to Welsh on the radio as I just don’t understand enough (though can converse in Welsh on a one to one basis with many people). On the whole the only Welsh television I watch is Pobol y Cwm and I just couldn’t bring myself to use English sub-titles as I felt it was a bit of a defeat for me (I would toggle between Welsh and English sub-titles though if I didn’t understand the Welsh). For a couple of years I have just used Welsh sub-titles on Pobol y Cwm and now know nearly everything that is written. Occasionally I would listen without any sub-titles and understood almost nothing. About three weeks ago I decided to ditch the sub-titles completely because my biggest weakness in Welsh is understanding what people say rather than being able to say things myself. I now probably understand a third to a half of what is said but will stop and start some conversations using Welsh sub-titles if I just can’t get it. The point I would make is use whatever works and the worse thing is not understanding anything and then giving up or spending less time. A year ago, or six months ago, if I did not use Welsh sub-titles I would have been lost even when re-watching a programme. Eventually you will probably move to Welsh sub-titles or go straight to listening only. The best thing to do would seem to be what you are doing, get to understand it first then retry with no sub-titles.

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I think English subtitles are useful to start. I used them for 10 months with pobol y cwm then switched to Welsh. With drama I want to know what’s happening, so I wouldn’t rule out using English again for a more complicated drama.

It’s good to throw in some radio too so you’re also getting some ‘pure’ listening practice but at the end of the day the only useful method is one you stick with! So enjoying it is important thing.


If it helps you, use it. :+1:t2:

I like to watch programmes with the English subtitles first and then watch them again another time without them on. I think it’s really important to be interested in the programme, it makes learning easier. Skyplus is great for pausing and rewinding stuff. When I hear a sentence I understand I replay it a few times. I hate Soap operas with a vengeance but love pobol y cwm and rownd a rownd as they help me to learn and keep my attention.

I listen to the radio as much as possible but don’t understand much. I try to learn new words with an online dictionary that I hear repeated on the radio most often. It sometimes takes a while to work the word out or how to spell it and sometimes I will hear it on tv and find out that way. The weather and the news are helpful too. I read the news apps in English so I know what they are talking about and can try to work out what they are saying.
The radio will improve as your vocabulary does it’s important for your brain to just listen and soak in words at its own pace. It can be pretty boring though.
Your English is Exellent so use the subtitles to your advantage.

Good luck.


Thanks for the tips and encouragement, @peterallen, @KateM, @Macky!

Radio seems quite a tough one for everybody,then!

As for drama: I’m not so much of a soap type in general, :sunglasses: but in this case there’s a technical problem too: there’s no full access to s4c outside the UK, and with soaps it’s essential to follow and get hooked by the characters’ stories.

I can only watch short clips or oldish, usually very specific and not-too-popular shows that are on YouTube. And a few kinda random recent shows - documentaries and entertainment - from s4c that are sometimes available on their website or that I’m able see in various more or less tricky ways.

Oddly enough I haven’t been able to find the weather (and news) anywhere on radio or TV!
Radio Cymru seems pretty much all freely available on line but the player seems to get stuck every time, I get close to tywydd. :neutral_face:

Just a couple of suggestions. If you listen to news bulletins in English (e.g. on Radio 4 or Radio Wales) and then listen to the bulletin in Welsh the same day, you will have a reasonable idea of what they’re talking about. Pluses, the news is usually read by someone who speaks clearly and not too fast. Minuses, they do use a lot of long words that you might not use in every day life.

Otherwise I really recommend the Pigion radio podcasts. They are clips specially selected for learners, so you don’t have people talking on bad phone lines or talking too fast. The topics are varied, so there’s usually something of interest. Because they’re podcasts, you can download them to an iPod or phone and listen to them anywhere. I suggest listening all the way through first, then selecting just one clip (there are usually 3) and listen to it over and over again. I find that repeated listening helps pick up words that you miss first time. Or even just listen to part of a clip.


On the radio: The weather tends to be at the end of news bulletins so just on the hour. Also traffic news which is nice for place names, well ones with traffic problems: My local Llandarcy and Baglan and also Parc Tredegar and Brynglas get a mention every morning :frowning:

Obviously, the radio doesn’t have subtitles. so it is quite difficult to follow at first. Although it does mean that you can give the listening your full attention. If you pick the right programmes - slow ones, perhaps with slow-ish songs, you gradually improve and I would say quickly after the initial period of acclimatisation, when you could be tricked into feeling that you aren’t getting anywhere, although you definitely are behind the scenes.

So All in all, I have found the radio to be a good way to move on.


The ideal for listening work is to be hearing words you understand, with new words introduced slowly enough for you to work them out from context.

Obviously, that’s not what listening to radio or TV is like.

Subtitles or not is largely a matter of emotion - if listening without subtitles makes you so stressed that you stop doing it, then that’s not the right thing to do - but listening with subtitles will always take your focus away from the process of understanding what you’re hearing, and can very easily become a long term trap.

There’s plenty of solid research that shows we can’t focus on two things at once - what we usually call ‘multi-tasking’ is actually about switching focus (rapidly in some cases) - but it has a cognitive cost. So switching from subtitles to ‘heard’ content is less effective than just listening.

The ideal is to listen to a piece, to read a transcript of that piece, to listen again, to read a translation, and then listen again.

It’s pretty rare to find recorded pieces with transcripts and translations, which is why we’re starting to offer exactly that for our advanced learners… :slight_smile:


All clear. :slight_smile:

I’ll try to get the best out of TV and radio while waiting for the “Big Change” - even though I can’t really define myself an advanced learner. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:
Maybe willing student?:smiley:

In the meantime thanks for the tips, everybody! :wink:


I have found that Radio Cymru tends to use a lot of SSiW constructions and vocabulary, which is good.

Also, occasionally a word comes up that is closely derived from one of our words, so it’s not too much of a stretch to work out it’s meaning. I find that the extra effort of working a word out tends to imprint it on the memory. Recently, I heard Allweddol for Key (adjective) / crucial. I was able to guess that from the SSiw Allweddi for Keys


I suspect that SSiW chose words and constructions wisely. :wink:

Then do you ever notice words and chucks of sentences repeated over and over throughout one radio show or maybe even several shows, but can’t turn them into something that you can look up in a dictionary?

Also does anybody know how to filter results in Welsh or from Wales in Google (or any other search engine)?
From time to time it works pretty well to guess or test expressions, but even when I know they’re right, it “corrects” them into other languages “did you mean X instead?” :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

p.s. I knew allweddi from a song, allweddol from SSiW - I can deal with any key-realated issue now! :slight_smile:


If you search on Termau (terms) you will get a list of suggestions to use for this.


I’m sorry, but if I search on Termau…where? :thinking:

My fault, I only had a minute to write that on my mobile. Ill have anothet go on my laptop later. But briefly, if you enter TERMAU into google or which ever search engine you use, you should end up with a list of Welsh dictionaries etc that deal with terms and idioms etc in Welsh.


Oh thanks, that’s interesting!
(more in general I need to improve my searches in Welsh language, but I think I’m going to make a specific post someday to ask for tips!)

Ah, right - I seem to have misunderstood what you are getting at. So you want to search on a Welsh word without being pushed into a similar looking English word?

If you are lucky, occasionally (but not always) you may get the following option
Did you mean y
Do you only want to search for x

The only other thing that I can suggest is to use Wikipedia. Again this won’t give you a list of sites, but it will hopefully restrict itself to your chosen word. On the other hand its all in Welsh.

For example, I’ve entered Plentyn (Welsh for Child)

Edit. sorry that should have been Wicipedia with a c


Yeah, most of the time I get either “Did you mean Y?”.
Or get results in other languages for things that happen to be written in the same way (gyda or colli for example).
Or get pages in English or Italian briefly mentioning this (especially with names, titles, and places) but in a very superficial and uninteresting way.

Yes, probably Wicipedia is one solution, but I still with I could have more sources.

Also, when I try to guess expressions I hear or I want to check if a translation in Welsh is right, I do like when I have doubts in English, or French: I search for the expression I seem to have recognized or the translation I want to check and see if I get zero, very few or a lot of results and in which contexts they are.

But this would work way better if I could restrict results to Wales or Welsh language and avoid all the useless junk!

Anyway, Wicipedia and Termau are useful tips!

There used to be a search engine for Catalan – ooh, about 20 years ago, I’m thinking AltaVista or something – that was actually just the regular search engine but with a couple of added search terms that were really, really distinctively Catalan in spelling and were very common words, such that they were pretty much guaranteed to occur in almost any Catalan web page. I don’t know if you/we/SSiW/the wider Welsh-speaking world could come up with an equivalent strategy that would work with today’s more sophisticated search engines, but it might be worth a try.

Also, do you know that if you put quotes around a word in most search engines it avoids the “did you mean X, let me search for that for you instead” behaviour?


OK, so I just tried it with and – searching for Eisteddfod gets you results mostly or wholly in English, while searching for “Eisteddfod” “mae” “yr” (with all the quotation marks as shown) gets you results all in Welsh (at least for the first page of results). Admittedly, Google does still ask “did you mean maes?” but it’s an improvement…

I would think that most Welsh pages will include the words “yr” and “mae” somewhere – but can anyone think of a better suggestion?

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Ydy as a second item seems to work. I’m on Bing and I tried a word that has different meanings in English and Welsh, knowing that it would be biased towards English. As expected, the results were exclusively in English.

I then tried ydy after the word and this gave a majority of Welsh items.

A word of caution - dont enter any Welsh words that could have unintended (dodgy) English meanings.

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