Why You Should Turn On Subtitles Now

Photo by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash

While literacy is on the rise across the globe, there are still plenty of children who test under the recommended level on their reading skills. Of course, there is large fluctuation in literacy rates across nations, but regardless of your location, there is a simple way to improve your child’s literacy skills and even help yourself acquire a new language. It simply involves turning on the subtitles on whatever visual media you are consuming.

Go for SLS

Of course, not all subtitles are created equal. The ones we mean are called same language subtitles, or SLS. There is plenty of research on how same language subtitling can drastically improve children’s literacy rates. Perhaps the most convincing longitudinal studies have been carried out in India, where over a 5-year period consuming media with SLS helped 45% of children to go from not reading at all to being able to read a newspaper. For children without access to such media, the same results were obtained by less than half at 20,2%. India also happens to be on the forefront of propagating turning on subtitles to improve the nation’s literacy rate.

While there is a lot less research on the effectiveness of SLS in the Western world, some research suggests that it can be an equally useful tool in that context as well. That applies especially to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Karaoke-style versus regular subtitles

Interestingly enough, while the Indian researchers used karaoke-style subtitling that helps children keep track of hearing and reading sounds, the research carried out in the US, used regular closed captioning, with equally promising results.

So, it’s fairly safe to say that turning on subtitles for visual media is a wonderful way to increase children’s literacy rates. So much so that there is now an increasing push to get media companies to switch to subtitled content by default. Many have already followed suit, although the idea is yet to gain mainstream acceptance.

Why does it work?

It seems too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Just turn on the subtitles, turn on the TV, and increase children’s literacy rates. So why is it so effective? How exactly does turning on the subtitles help children read better?

Well, it comes down to practice, really.

The way to get better at reading is to do it a lot. And many children, who are low-achievers in reading proficiency tests, simply haven’t had the opportunity to practise their reading skills enough.

But subtitles can change that.

The human eye is trained to notice movement, and whether it’s karaoke-style subtitling or simply lines of text appearing and disappearing, the eye gets drawn to it. And then the brain will naturally try to make sense of what it is seeing, trying to read the words. This happens whether you consciously recognise that or not.

So, in essence turning on subtitles simply helps children get a lot more reading practice, whether they realise it or not.


Turning on subtitles is a great way to help children of all backgrounds achieve better reading skills. So, whether you’re showing your child Youtube videos or bingeing on Netflix, be sure to turn on same language subtitles to get free reading practice.