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Subtitles are more important than you think

by Samantha Minnehan

Most of us are probably familiar with the little closed caption button in the corner of the screen on Netflix and other streaming services like Hulu, Apple TV and Disney Plus. Most cable services also offer some sort of closed captioning/subtitles. You click that button and you can choose from a variety of languages to read subtitles in. Not only does it tell you what the people or characters are saying, but it can also give information about music and different sounds that are being used to enhance what you are watching. 

Subtitles and captions are actually slightly different, captions are word for word while subtitles are a transcription of a video, but in this instance they are being used interchangeably due to being different from service to service. 

Despite this closed caption option lacking in movie theaters, it is available on most streaming services. It is unlikely that you will walk into a movie theater and see subtitles on the screen unless you are at a theater that features independent or foreign films. Big name theaters can take a step towards inclusivity by using subtitles for all films played. Subtitles benefit not only the hearing impaired, but everyone. 

Subtitles are important because it allows videos to reach a wider audience. Subtitles allow greater comprehension for those who are hearing impaired, non-native speakers, or anyone else who may have difficulty watching videos with sound. 

Closed captioning allows for foreign films to be enjoyed all over the world. By including closed captioning, amazing movies can be enjoyed by more than those who speak the language it was filmed in. Making it accessible for anyone increases the variety of movies for people to choose from, allowing them to experience different cultures and film styles that they might not have had the opportunity to experience before. 

It can also be useful while trying to learn a new language as you can hear the pronunciation of common words and phrases while seeing the translation in either your native language or the language you are trying to learn. That way you can associate the spelling with the pronunciation. 

Subtitles also provide clarity in a film, which in turn can increase one’s comprehension of it. Captions for Literacy states, “The specific areas that captioning can improve include word recognition, word comprehension, vocabulary, identifying the main idea of a story, phoneme recognition, listening comprehension, and oral reading skills.” This shows closed caption viewing can be beneficial for many people, not just those who are hearing impaired. 

According to The Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, Deafblind, and Hard Of Hearing, “Using closed captions or subtitles has the potential to close the divide, not only for students who are deaf and hard of hearing, but also those who struggle with reading, those who are learning English as a second language and people who need to increase their literacy skills.” 

Some people have disdain towards the idea of using closed captioning because it is seen as annoying and may cover something on the screen. However, it is difficult to ignore the benefits that it may have for many.  

Samantha Minnehan can be reached at samantha.minnehan@spartans.ut.edu

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