Improving literacy with captioning

Improving Literacy With Captioning

Literacy is the Foundation for Education

Literacy is possibly the most important aspect of learning. It is the foundation for all other education. As Nelson Mandela puts it so eloquently,

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

The ability to read and write is essential to develop solutions to social, economic, and political issues that affect us all. Yet in the United States alone, an estimated 65 million adults over the age of 16, cannot read above the eighth grade level. Additionally, 14% of the country’s population can only read at a fifth grade level or lower. Adult literacy is an issue we need to address and improve!

Solving Literacy 

There are many programs that offer solutions to help improve literacy, one of the most effective ways is to incorporate captions and transcriptions into the learning curriculum.

  • Captioned videos help students to improve word recognition, listening skills, comprehension and expand vocabulary. These are basic reading skills that students need to develop whether learning English as a first or second language.
  • Being able to both see and hear unfamiliar words helps struggling students to develop a better understanding of those words and expand their vocabulary.
  • Students tend to be more motivated to learn when they are presented with both text and captioned videos. Eyes are drawn to the words on the screen and when hearing the word spoken it becomes a great way to improve literacy and have fun at the same time.
  • The use of subtitles and captions when viewing television and videos at home will provide additional learning opportunities and word recognition.
  • Research indicates that reading skills are enhanced through the use of subtitles and captioning for beginning readers, those struggling to read print, those  learning English as a second language and those that may have learning disabilities.

Research has also revealed that improving literacy with captioning is intuitive, requiring very little instruction. It is natural for students to try and decode words when presented with them on screen, even if they are struggling to read print. Struggling readers will gain further reading practice when watching videos with captions, both in the classroom and at home.

Captions improve literacy.
Captions improve literacy.

Almost every classroom has at least one student who finds reading a struggle, whether it is because they are just learning or as a result of English being their second language. There is a need for creative ways to address the diverse needs of students to learn.

Teachers looking for an alternative method for teaching reading find captioned and transcribed media to be extremely helpful, particularly when video is used to teach reading skills. Using movies with captions and/or transcriptions is also a great and inexpensive way to motivate and engage students to master basic reading skills such as word recognition and phonics. Students struggling with print will often respond better to video with captions and/or transcriptions as well. 

Videos and television shows with captions and transcriptions can improve:


  • Fluency and reading speed
  • Decoding and expansion of vocabulary
  • Recognition of words
  • Comprehension
  • Listening skills
  • Word knowledge
  • Oral reading speed


Research indicates that comprehension skills are greatly enhanced by watching videos with captions and/or transcriptions, and that vocabulary size grows, particularly for readers struggling to read. 

Captioned media is particularly helpful for students learning English (or other languages) as a second language. Research has proven that the use of captions is extremely effective for learning listening comprehension, much more so than media without captions. Motivation, decoding skills, expansion of vocabulary, word recognition and comprehension aid students learning a foreign language when it is taught using videos with captions and/or transcriptions. Students often feel less intimidated and more motivated by learning a foreign language using multimedia.

Improving literacy with captioning helps students learn media in a much more enjoyable and engaging way. Learning through captioned media can also have a positive effect on other academic activities, making learning an overall more enjoyable experience.

Accessibility links:

Nicole E. Flynn, CMO at cielo24, is deeply interested in exploring and communicating the ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) intersects with various aspects of our daily lives. She is passionate about exploring the ways in which AI can be ethically harnessed to improve the quality of life and make our world a better place. Nicole seeks to educate and inform audiences about the potential of AI technology and how it can be used to drive innovation and growth.