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Closed Captions Improve Literacy in Children

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    What Is Literacy?

    Literacy development is a keystone to a child’s overall development. Literacy is the foundation that will set students up for success in school, and in the future. Literacy helps with socializing, achieving goals, and eventually participating fully in society.

    Commonly, literacy is simply thought of as the ability to read and write. While this is certainly an aspect of literacy, literacy encompasses much more than this. Literacy includes the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, and communicate using printed and written materials, as well as the ability to express thoughts, feelings and ideas.

    Literacy and Closed Captioning

    Several research studies have found that closed captioning on videos improves literacy. The largest study about same language subtitling (commonly known as captioning) comes from India’s Bollywood films. The purpose of the study was to see if captions had any impact on India’s large illiterate population. Through the study it was then discovered that children were learning to read from following the subtitles.

    Another study which focused on secondary students in Hawaii was cited by the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse. This study tested to see if karaoke-style subtitling improved reading comprehension using Broadway’s “Les Misérables” and “Cats”.

    The test subjects answered questions while viewing and listening to videos. Students who had the same-language-subtitling scored significantly higher on follow-up tests of reading comprehension than students in the control group.

    Where and How Can We Implement the Use of Captions for Improving Literacy?

    As literacy is such an integral part of learning and development, improving literacy shouldn’t be limited to the classroom or school hours. Literacy can be learned, practiced, and developed in many ways at home and during play. One simple way to improve literacy is by utilizing closed captions. Captions have considerable benefits for boosting the literacy skills of all students, especially those with print disabilities or who are English Language Learners (ELLs). Several studies report that captioning and subtitles help strengthen the following reading skills:

    • Reading speed and fluency
    • Word knowledge
    • Decoding
    • Vocabulary acquisition
    • Word recognition
    • Reading comprehension
    • Oral reading rates

    Likewise, a wonderful and simple tool such as captioning can and should be used both in and out of the classroom. Video is such a popular mode of entertainment, as well as widely used in education. Choosing to turn captions on is a very simple – yet effective – way to help your child learn.

    Students can increase vocabulary, comprehension, and reading skills by watching even entertainment programs with the captions turned on. Closed captions help children learn sight words and reinforce reading skills. Although captions are in no way an alternative to traditional reading, captions can be a fun and engaging way to present reading in an alternative form. This is especially useful for students who may become either bored or discouraged from reading books.

    How Captions Affect Our Media Experience

    Some people might assume captions will be distracting, or on the contrary, simply ignored. Captions are actually intuitive, however. This means that they will not be ignored, and additionally there is no training or instruction needed to get students to use them. Even beginning or struggling readers tend to try to read the text on captioned media. This is another reason captioning is important – in other reading situations lower-level readers avoid reading activities. Avoiding reading and decreasing exposure to print only makes students’ development continue to fall further behind their peers.

    In addition to the technical aspect of literacy, captioning can also help with the emotional and psychological component of literacy. The multimedia component that captions provide help foreign language learners to feel motivated, and alleviate some of the anxiety for children who are learning a new language, or having trouble with understanding a language.

    It’s also important to know that captions are shown to increase engagement and enjoyment relative to uncaptioned or print content. So not only does captioning increase literacy, but they also make content more enjoyable – that sounds like a win-win!

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