Many people associate captioning only with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. It’s true that millions of Americans depend on captions for news and entertainment, but the benefits of captioning extend far beyond.
Captions are also widely used in public places where noise or other distractions make them a welcome addition. Health clubs, restaurants, bars and airports all make use of captions, allowing people to stay plugged in while they are socializing, working out, or waiting for their flight to be announced.
It is in these environments that the majority of hearing citizens are exposed to captions. Public caption use is becoming such a part of our culture that government is getting in on the act. There is a bill in the works that could require bars in Maryland to display captions on all televisions. Some legislators want captions on all sets, while others think captions should be turned on only when requested. In either case, most of the legislators seem to agree that it is important to make captions available for those who need them.
If you have a profound hearing loss, there’s no question that you need captions. But beyond the issue of need, there are a few things captions can do that benefit society as a whole.
It’s not too surprising when you think about it, but captions are an excellent learning tool. Research has shown improvement in motivation, reading comprehension and vocabulary when hearing children are shown text captions along with audio and video. Just like “word walls” that are so highly recommended in schools throughout our country, captioning continues that text-rich environment of the classroom, and carries it to each child’s TV time. Using captions mimics the techniques used in educational videos, but instead of learning just colors and numbers, a child can discover new vocabulary in anything that comes across your TV set — words that pertain to sports, economics, geography or far-away cultures.
Captions also benefit hearing adults who are trying to learn a new language. The ability to see the spoken word in films, television and Internet videos greatly increases retention of new words and their meanings. When we see the written words, it is much easier to pick up on connections between our native language and the new words, cementing these language lessons in our minds. The great part is that the learning happens almost effortlessly.
Captions are a great tool for both the hearing and the hard-of-hearing communities. Try it out for yourself. During family TV time, turn on the captions and see the difference it makes in your kid’s reading and comprehension. Next time you rent a DVD, turn on the subtitles in Spanish or French. You’ll be amazed at what you learn!
Ben is a broadcast engineer and creator of StationDrop. With a longevity in the broadcast industry, over 20 years, Ben has experience with everything from 1” tape reels to completely file-based workflows. Recently, Ben has broken into the world of coffee. Ask him about his latest brew.