Several hundred million reasons captions boost literacy

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Wednesday, 26 August 2015 10:34am

The use of captions to help with literacy is supported by a range of studies and approaches. As we approach National Literacy and Numeracy Week and the culmination of the CAP THAT! campaign, we contrast two studies on captions and literacy—a small-scale American study and a massive program in India targeting hundreds of millions.

Key attached to keychain with the word 'literacy'

Professor Robert Collins from the San Francisco State University conducted a 2-year case study looking at the benefits of captioning for literacy. In the first year of teaching an American Indian studies course he showed videos without captions to establish a baseline for his students. After a year he then started showing captions and the results were significant. 

According to Collins, “During the baseline year, there were a lot of Cs. In the second years, they went from Cs, Ds and Fs to As, Bs and Cs. It was really significant improvement.”

He attributes this to providing a focus for the technology whereby the students concentrated on the captions and their learning improved.

For more dramatic impact, but using the same principle of providing focus, the India-wide program Planet Read enables hundreds of millions of people to move from very basic literacy to becoming functionally literate.

The program uses open-captioned Bollywood music videos that are shown on television across India so that viewers can follow the captions as they sing along to the music. 

Planet Read founder Brij Kothari identifies the scientific principles behind the program:

  • Eye-tracking research shows that captioning provides automatic and inescapable read-along response.
  • Early readers exposed to captions attempt to read along and find their reading skills improving.
  • Viewers who like to sing along are curious about the song lyrics, reinforcing a subconscious practice of reading.
  • Weak-readers have a higher motivation to keep going as the songs are repeated, lyrics can be anticipated and the soundtrack sounds out the words.  This means that the entry barrier to reading practice is lowered.
  • The program started in 1999 and long-term data shows that even just 30 minutes’ weekly exposure to these captions over a 3-5 year period is enough to boost literacy to functional levels.

National Literacy and Numeracy Week runs from 31 August – 6 September 2015 and is a supporter of CAP THAT!

More studies and evidence of captioning boosting literacy can be found at Captions for Literacy.

Original reporting, links and more information about captions and literacy are at the Ollibean website.

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