Does anyone watch TG4? And is it really great?

TG4  has been gaining a reputation as one of the best TV stations in Ireland because of it’s programming and documentaries. And while in this bloger’s personal opinion that is well deserved there is a huge elephant in the room.

Subtitles. Yes, notwithstanding fiscal restraints and the need to import cheap programming from abroad,  there is a hardened policy of open subtitling (non removable) of all Irish and English language content, and it’s not helping.

Why? Well when there are subtitles people are drawn to them as this synopsis points out. And if they’re in English only then people will tend to read them and process them rather than listen to what is being said. This does not help native speakers but hinders them. Likewise with learners. But it does make Irish language programming more appealing to the vast majority of monoglot English speakers in Ireland.

But hang on a minute, we’re in the digital age, are we not? Well, yes we are and that means that all TV channels are now digital and as such the provision of subtitles in Irish, English or none at all is only really a button away.

So why doesn’t TG4 or BBC Alba for that matter, just give people the option of Gaelic, English or no subtitles. It would really help all learners improve their language skills by watching programming in Irish and it would make a lot of native speakers happy not to have to read the English subtitles. It would also keep the rest of the population happy as they could just use the English subtitles as they are right now.

On a slight tangent though, much has been made of young people in Irish speaking communities having better English than Irish. Well if they’re forced to read subtitles on even Irish language programming from the only TV channel available to them then it’s not surprising that their grasp of English is better than their grasp of written Irish.

So why not make the TV world a better place for native speakers, learners and English monoglots by just introducing a button.


7 thoughts on “Does anyone watch TG4? And is it really great?”

  1. Thanks for the replies. I think the issue here is that we are forced to deal with English subtitles and that there is just no choice whatsoever. Thanks for the info on their policy. Personally I can only get English subtitles for S4C and the same with TG4, it really isn’t a big technological difficulty to give people an option a choice. Lets hope by raising awareness we can get them to sort this out.


    1. As for S4C subtitles (isdeitlau), I don’t know what system you have, but mine is a SKY+ box and viewing Welsh closed captions on programmes that have them is easy enough once you know the steps.

      On the Sky box, I go to the /Options/Subtitles/ and
      1) turn subtitles to “on” and then
      2) temporarily switch the “Favourite language” to “Welsh”.

      Once I’ve saved that setting, I go back to S4C and if the programme has Welsh subtitles, they’ll be visible.

      If I recall correctly, the steps are different for some programming (Live stuff I think) and require you to use the SKy remotes Red button to call up a small on-screen CY-EN option button.
      Hope that’s some help.


      1. Thanks for the tips. I was tinkering around with the Sky+ box too on S4C and just presumed that there were no Welsh subtitles, but it must’ve been the programme I was watching. After trying it again as you describe it worked! Thanks. Have tried it on TG4 but with a western and I can’t seem to get any subtitles, the audio is in English. I’ll keep trying in the spirit of investigation to see what programmes have subtitles and what not.

        Naturally putting Irish subtitles for all their programming would be quite a bit of work (having done subtitling myself) but for their most popular programmes I think a policy based on the language needs of its viewers and the provision of choice should be paramount for ANY channel that was set up to serve the needs of a specific language community. Indeed, that being the central theme of the channel, I really don’t understand how or why TG4 can justify not bothering.


      2. Glad to help.

        Regarding the TG4 setup, I’ve never been able to get any Closed subtitles (Irish or English) via the standard Sky+ method and the teletext access is very dependent on the TV itself.

        On my non-smart TV, I can get the Irish subtitles (Garfield, Mr.Men, Dora, Ros na Rún) if I follow a quite complicated set of steps.
        I must switch to the analogue AV input for my DVD player, with the DVD turned off and using the TV remote, not the Sky remote, turn on teletext mode and call up page 887.

        On my smart TV, I cannot get the Irish subtitles at all on the Sky TG4 channel, but can get them easily enough via the Saorview broadcast of TG4.

        All in all a terrible technological situation. It pretty appalling especially when I compare it to then amazing range of subtitling provision I can access on online German language Public Service TV stations on the web. To varying degrees German language stations have a lot of subtitled programming (ARD, ZDF, ORF, SRF, BR). But in their case they seem to be addressing a statutory obligation for their deaf and hearing impaired citizens and not the needs of linguistic minority.


      3. I don’t think anyone should have to go through so many complicated steps just to get subtitles. For a national broadcaster it’s a very lazy and non-user friendly policy. It should be sorted ASAP to be honest for the benefit of everyone.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an ongoing issue that TG4 should address with real urgency. Longterm, it probably has a damaging linguistic effect on Irish speaker’s TV viewing and doesn’t really help learners beyond the initial stages of encountering Irish language programming.

    I recall looking into this early last year (2014). Even then they had a note on the website that plans were in place to use the currently available technology (like S4C does) to offer viewer selectable English captions and Irish captions for the ones in currently offers (Ros na Rún and some kids shows, although via the last millennium technology of Teletext).

    Last time I checked, the undated note had not been updated. See (


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