Why Movies with Captions Should Be Added to Your Classroom

Why Movies with Captions Should Be Added to Your Classroom

Believe it or not, but video captions and same-language subtitles actually improve the literacy skills of both children and adults. So in the case of improving reading comprehension and text interpretation, the old saying “TV rots your brains” just doesn’t hold any value.

The technique of using television programs with captions can vastly improve an individual’s reading skills, written and spoken vocabulary, attention span, and pronunciation, especially for second-language learners. So why isn’t this technique used more often in the classroom? Because again, TV has the “brain-rotting” reputation.

Captions translate spoken language to written language, which is highly beneficial for basic literacy and English language learners. Being able to sound out and pronounce a word is one of the essential stepping stones to learning how to read and improving literacy skills. According to Dr. Frank Serafini, author of Audiobooks & Literacy, an individual who hears the sounds of spoken language while pairing those sounds with printed text can focus on the meanings of the words, rather than only recognize the words.

“As developing readers listen to audiobooks and follow along with a printed version of the story, they learn to match the sounds of oral language to their written counterparts,” Serafini said. “This matching of sounds to symbols is the basis for reading instruction … [and supports] struggling readers by helping them focus on meaning rather than the decoding of text.”

Pairing audio with visuals can develop literacy skills by helping students connect symbols to sounds while transferring comprehension skills of spoken language to the written text. Additionally, captions offer a better opportunity for an individual to enjoy a film or show that is exciting and relevant to them. If a student’s favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz, it is easier for him or her to engage and view the text with the spoken dialogue while Dorothy finds her way back to Kansas.

More than 100 studies conclude that video captions help develop comprehension skills. Captions are especially beneficial for those who watch captioned videos in non-native language, for children and adults learning to read, and for individuals who are hard of hearing. As a matter of fact, U.S. laws require captioning in most workplace and educational contexts. However, many video audiences and developers are inexperienced in regards to the captioning laws and are unaware of the educational benefits.

Some states are reinforcing these laws. Hawaii recently enacted a law to require open captions in movie theaters. As of July 1, 2019, according to the Hawaii House Bill 1009, movie theaters must provide at least two showings per week per movie with open captioning.

India has launched some very interesting ways of implementing caption into video for educational purposes. PlanetRead has found great success using second-language subtitles to help struggling readers in India. The lyrics of songs in films and music videos are displayed as subtitles in the same language that they are being sung in.

Hopefully, programs and laws like these will continue to pop up across the globe to provide individuals an engaging and entertaining route to develop their literacy skills. Captions help build fluency skills, improve sight word recognition, build comprehension, can be integrated in all levels of literacy skill building, and they allow students to access content they can easily comprehend on their own.

You can also help improve reading comprehension with nonfiction news articles using the sentence-by-sentence audio on News for You Online. Go to to try it out.



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