Captioned Videos Provide Educational Benefits Research Shows

August 4th, 2013 No Comments Other

Students who are learning a second language may benefit from watching captioned videos, especially if they are struggling to comprehend a foreign language that is spoken in an unfamiliar dialect or regional accent.

One study, conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (MPI) and the Radboud University in Nijmegen, found that captions (subtitling) in the same language as the one spoken in the video enhanced the learning effect.

During the study, Dutch students who were unfamiliar with Australian and Scottish English accents were shown an episode of the Australian sitcom Kath and Kim, or a portion of the movie Trainspotting. The students were divided into three groups; one watched the video with English captions, the other with Dutch captions and the third without captions.

The researchers found that when the students watched the video with English captions, they performed better than when they had watched the video with captions in their own language.

This was believed to be due to the fact that the Dutch captions drew the viewers’ attention away from the unfamiliar accent, while the English captions enabled them to adjust the way they perceived speech that is spoken in an unfamiliar way.

Another study, conducted by researchers in New Zealand, looked at the effects of captions on a group of Chinese students who were using them to understand new individual words and expressions.

The students who viewed the video content with captions were more capable of learning new words and phrases than those who had watched the same content without any captions. The researchers noted that the use of video content in combination with captions enables students to learn colloquial language and also understand how and when native speakers use it.

David Orban, CEO of Dotsub, a web-based platform that allows users to create and view subtitles for videos in multiple languages across all platforms, agrees that captioned videos can be very effective as a teaching and learning tool.

“There are several reasons why subtitled videos can be very effective in learning, both with same language subtitles (SLS), and with translations,” says Orban.

“A lot of people study English around the world, and the relatively higher diffusion of internet in English speaking countries means that there is a lot of online video in English. However, the level of comprehension of spoken English for many of those who study it, even after several years, is very low.

This is especially true for more advanced topics of technical nature; it is almost impossible for someone who is not a native speaker to follow, and fully engage with an hour long video, even if their English skills are well developed.

The availability of English SLS on online videos allows for superior cognitive engagement, resulting in better comprehension, and better retaining of knowledge.”

Orban points out that with Dotsub’s platform, even people who aren’t professionals can caption and translate videos, which can be beneficial to both engagement and learning, and may also help to build a sense of community, as students feel they can give back in some way and participate proactively.

He believes that captioned videos can also be beneficial to English speakers, as it can help them to engage more fully in the content they are viewing.

“WETA, [one of Dotsub’s clients], observed that based on comparative testing, 45% more people watched half or all of the videos when provided with captions as opposed to the same videos offered without,” he comments.

“Udacity, one of the first companies in the explosive MOOC movement, launched its AI Class in September 2011 based on Dotsub’s crowd sourced translation platform, and achieved an extremely high level of student participation worldwide, with videos being translated into 40 languages and more in just a few days.

This level of engagement and community building is made possible by the low barrier to entry in the translation towards one’s own native language.”

Orban also points out that he has experienced some of the educational benefits of captioned videos firsthand, being an ESL learner himself.

“English is not my native language, and I can confirm that subtitled videos have helped me advance my knowledge. I actually prefer watching movies with subtitles: it is so much easier to pick up on the urban slang, or the streetwise jokes.”


Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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