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Closed Captioning: An 'Undervalued' Method for Reading Improvement?

In a recent Education Week Commentary piece, public radio reporter Monica Brady-Myerov writes that reading same-language subtitles can boost students' literacy.

She cites studies from the United Kingdom and India that support the use of closed captioning as a method for improving reading. 

"Rather than being simply annoying, listening to English, and reading English subtitles helps in decoding words and reading better," writes Brady-Myerov, who founded Listen Current, a nonprofit that supports teachers' use of public radio in the classroom. "In fact, the linguist and researcher Martine Danan calls captioning an 'undervalued language-learning strategy.'"

Interestingly, I heard this same concept at the International Literacy Association conference recently. Literacy expert Timothy Rasinski pointed out that the National Captioning Institute has found reading benefits from closed captioning in its research, too. For instance, a 1990 study found that bilingual students who watched captioned television learned more words and remembered more science information than those who watched TV without captions or those who only read a textbook. 

Rasinski also said that one reason Finland has such high literacy rates, despite not putting students in formal schooling until age 7, is that most of its TV shows are closed-captioned(Though unlike the same-language subtitles Brady-Myerov recommends, these are Finnish captions on English TV shows.) Jim Trelease, the author of the Read-Aloud Handbook, has apparently been calling closed captioning the "mechanical reading tutor" for several decades.

Many say the captions are an effective tool in part because they're difficult not to follow when they are on. "I have mild hearing loss, and when my kids come to town they tell me to turn off the closed captioning," Rasinski said. "I say, 'Ignore it!' and they say, 'I can't.'"  

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