Friday, December 30, 2011

Subtitles and Childhood Literacy

I have been busy lately with work and holidays and decided to ignore this blog for a few weeks. I know, not fair, but it isn't a lack of things to write about, trust me. According to Blogger I have 33 posts here but only a handful are posted. The new year should be glorious (maybe).

Here is a quick story for you to think about:

Captions are a big issue for Deaf and HH, surprisingly there are a lot of nuances in the issue of simply providing a text copy for what people are saying on TV. In a nutshell though, my hearing is at the point where if I don't have captions, it almost isn't worth watching most things because I simply can't follow along with the story. I can still watch it and find out the basic plot but it's like reading the cliff-notes or watching a movie based on a well written and intricate book. You know the plot (and the ending), but you really didn't get the story. That is what watching un-subtitled movies and TV is like to me. If it is something I care about, I am better off just waiting rather than ruining the ending. The point is, most things we watch together as a family are subtitled.

Yeah, it's like watching Doctor Who with River Song. 

Recently though I noticed my Ver1 reading the TV. I asked her about it, "Are you reading the subtitles?" Her response was that, yes, she always read the subtitles when she watched things with me. Despite the fact that subtitles ruin some jokes and take some nuanced timing away from he actors, I found it amazing that she could follow along. Subtitles are often very fast. I guess the eye is naturally drawn to the text since my wife said she would often read them too. 

Ver1 is highly literate, able to read books and comprehend and spell words far beyond her peers in school. It isn't something I want to brag about to anyone other than her Grandparents (heh), but it's simply the truth. Her teachers have tested her extensively and even talked to the English teacher at the local middle school about it. Ver1 is reading at an 5-6th grade level and improving constantly. Ver2, her younger sister is also showing great aptitude for reading as a pre-schooler. Obviously, this is something we encourage at home and my wife has talked about books and literacy before as she helps out with reading at my daughter's school.

Now I wonder, how long has she been reading the TV and how much did it contribute to her literacy? I know it is great for foreign languages and subtitles can encourage literacy (as flaunted by lots of kids educational videos), but a lot of that is suspect by the fact that sitting kids in front of a TV with a video was much worse than just reading a book to them. It was a lazy parent's method. We do both though, we read lots of books and the little TV we do watch is always subtitled, but it's normal TV, not educational kids videos.

My oldest daughter is obviously smart and that isn't something I can take much credit for, but she is an outlier (in the best way) when it comes to literacy level. There is no way to separate this subtitle effect out as it is just part of life here (as are owning lots of books and frequent trips to the Library), but I have to wonder if my hearing disability didn't actually improve my children's literacy levels. It's something I may never answer, but I think it's worth thinking about.

Something new to add on this subject. I have been baffled several times in the last few weeks by the lack of subtitles on kid's DVD's. We borrowed a "Cid The Science Kid" DVD from the local library and it had no subtitles.
Sid is a great show really, the DVD's are just lacking one small detail. 

I have this same problem with about half of the kid's TV shows I have watched recently on DVD. Is there some kind of assumption that kid's can't read and don't need them anyway? Is it cost savings? It's annoying because despite the fact that subtitles help kids learn to read, leaving them off of a DVD release aimed at kids seems counter productive. It also annoys me as a parent because I can't discuss the lessons and choices the characters make or review the facts on the subjects being "taught" by the shows and talk about them with my kids.

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't be surprised if the lack of subtitles wasn't a combination of "kids can't read anyway so why spend the money" and there is no subtitle requirement on DVD, unlike a closed captioning requirement which affects most broadcasters, so again, why spend the money. I suspect there's not a totally simple way to just copy the closed captioning text to the subtitle file, but it would seem like someone would make a program that could read the caption stream and copy it to a subtitle file. I'm sure the company that did the captioning could also supply the subititles, but there would be a cost involved.


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