A computer with an image of a woman on a laptop. A man sits in front of the laptop on a beanbag. He is also studying on a laptop. A graduation cap sits on the computer and a cat sits next to the computer.

Why You Should Add Captions for Global Literacy Week

October 24-31 marks UNESCO’s Global Media and Information Literacy Week.

UNESCO’s description of the occasion asks a lot of important questions in our digitally-rich environments.

“How can we access, search, critically assess, use and contribute content wisely, both online and offline? What are our rights online and offline? What are the ethical issues surrounding the access and use of information? How can we engage with media and ICTs [Information Communication Technologies] to promote equality, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, peace, freedom of expression and access to information?” 

It’s simple—Access to information is a right! And to celebrate this occasion, we’re here to tell you a little bit about the positive impact captions and subtitles can have on information literacy.

Literacy Support is Not Only For Kids

Much of the research done about captioning and literacy is centred on children, often with the help of eye-tracking science, which is used to understand where students are looking as they learn and absorb information.

Researchers like Sharon Black point to how subtitles and captions support all students, but that they have particular benefits for English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners and those from under-served backgrounds, where more common language intervention programs are unavailable. 

Groups like the UK’s Turn on the Subtitles have enlisted the help of a number of notable celebrities to spread the word that subtitles can increase childhood literacy.

However, beyond the positive information literacy effects that can come from captioning, when it’s not available, we see the possibility of a tangible decrease in knowledge building.

How Captions Impact Literacy Outcomes: The Research

Captions have been found by many researchers to have a significant impact on literacy around the world. Let’s look at just a couple of examples.

At the university level, research published by the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability found that 49% of students involved with the research rated captions as being not only helpful but ‘extremely helpful’, and that captioning supported learning in terms of note-taking, spelling, clarification, and comprehension.

Research done in 2019 at a Turkish university found that those students who were learning English, and were provided a video with Turkish subtitles in order to complete tasks, often did so faster. Their conclusion was that “Learning IL [Information Literacy] principles in the ELL’s [English Language Learner’s] native language can scaffold the learner’s ability to research and find information in the second language.”

In other words, captions—even when they don’t match the language spoken on screen—can provide important context and support further learning.

How You Can Support Global Literacy

The number one thing we recommend from our position in information accessibility, is simply to start adding captions and subtitles to your content! By doing this, you not only support people learning to read or learning new languages—you also make your content accessible for people who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing, and you make your content more engaging and more memorable.

Find out how Ai-Media can support you with our full range of captioning solutions.

And if you’re looking for Literacy Week events, UNESCO’s website features an ongoing calendar of events.


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