Does Closed Captioning Improve Reading and Literacy in Children?

September 19, 2022 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: September 21, 2022

Literacy development is a keystone to a child’s overall development. Finding tools that help improve literacy can be significantly helpful for children developing their reading skills. So, does closed captioning improve reading skills, and can it be used as a tool to support literacy in children?


How Closed Captions and Transcripts Improve Student Learning

Literacy is critical as it 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. According to some studies, captions help improve reading speed and fluency, vocabulary, and word recognition, all of which are crucial aspects of literacy.

What Is Literacy?

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.

Does Closed Captioning Improve Reading and Literacy?

graduation cap

Several research studies have found that closed captioning does improve reading and 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 by following the subtitles.

Another study that 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?

Document inspection

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

laptop with check mark

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 components of literacy. The multimedia component that captions provide helps foreign language learners to feel motivated and alleviates some of the anxiety of children who are learning a new language or having trouble 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 it also makes content more enjoyable – that sounds like a win-win!

How Closed Captions and Transcripts Improve Student Learning