When many of us think of subtitled content, we think of foreign language movies or TV series and typically we associate this with content that’s made for an adult audience. However, there are many benefits to children watching TV with subtitles on.
That’s according to Sharon Black, a lecturer in interpreting (with Spanish) at the University of East Anglia, who recently wrote for Yahoo! that encouraging your children to watch TV and videos with subtitles on can improve their reading skills, as well as helping them to learn another language.
She added that this is particularly beneficial for children with disabilities or those who speak a minority language as their mother tongue.
This doesn’t mean you have to get your kids to watch films or programmes in a foreign language, as subtitles can be useful if they’re in the same language as the dialogue.
For instance, Ms Black explained that having the subtitles on in the same language as the programme can help improve children’s vocabulary, boost their decoding skills and lead to improvements in their comprehension skills and reading fluency.
She also highlighted a campaign to have the subtitles turned on by default for all TV content aimed at children aged six to ten.
The Turn on the Subtitles (TOTS) campaign is backed by a range of leading experts and wants to raise awareness of the benefits of subtitles for children among parents, as well as help more young people watch subtitled content.
There are also other benefits in terms of making content more accessible to children with hearing loss or difficulties, as well as benefiting young people with conditions such as autism or dyslexia
Ms Black also pointed out that there is research that shows that children can benefit from watching content in foreign languages too, as this not only helps them pick up the basics of a foreign language, but also improves their intercultural awareness.
In the UK, for example, the television children watch is dominated by programmes produced in the US.
“Boosting children’s exposure to subtitled foreign language films and television programmes would be a simple, inexpensive way to promote their learning of other languages,” she asserted.
Earlier this year, Big Think shared a map showing which European countries prefer subtitled content and which prefer content that has been dubbed.
In the UK, for instance, the preference is for subtitled content, although not for content aimed at children, where dubbing is preferred.
The Scandinaivan nations take a similar approach to the UK, whereas many countries in mainland Europe, including Germany, France and Spain, opt for dubbing with a full cast of voice actors.
Interestingly in many parts of Eastern Europe, including Russia, Poland and Ukraine, the preference is for keeping the original soundtrack with just a couple of voice actors providing a voiceover.
Of course, subtitling isn’t only relevant for TV shows and films. With more and more video content being shared online via streaming services and social media, it’s important to consider subtitling here too.