Captions as input

Not having cable TV at home, I tend to watch it during my almost daily slog on the treadmill at the YMCA. Some of the treadmill TVs have an interesting feature: they show captions until you plug in your earphones. Then the captioning disappears. The presumption must be that if you plug in earphones, you can hear, and therefore don’t need the captions.
Captioning is a talking point in accessibility discussions. It’s seen as necessary for those with hearing impairments, so they can read the audio content instead of hear it. But some faculty don’t want things captioned, since the point of the exercise might be to ONLY hear something (as in a language class). Although captioning is increasingly mandated by the government, I support faculty who have work for which captioning is inappropriate, and those who refuse to do manual captioning themselves because their institution won’t help with it.

But to me captioning is not about disability accommodation. It is simply another way of relaying the information, regardless of ability. While not being a very good listener, or very good at English, may not be a “disability”, in such cases captioning can provide better comprehension. Reading the captions while listening engages two parts of the brain and provides reinforcement. Seeing a visual representation next to text provides two inputs. Multiple inputs work. I did an experiment once where I put on period music, flashed period images on the screen, and lectured about the period all at the same time. Retention of the information was much better.

So I am annoyed by the treadmills that automatically turn off the captions. My Spanish is lousy, so if I’m watching a soccer game it helps to see the Spanish in print. If the gym is loud that day, or the audio track of the movie on TCM isn’t so hot, or the characters use accents or intonations my brain is too tired to translate while pretending I’m not walking for 2 miles, the captions are nice. It should be up to me to turn them on or off, using the remote control.

3 thoughts on “Captions as input

  1. I agree. I give my students several choices for lectures. Listening to an mp3 podcast or reading the lecture (with a few pictures). Many students tell me they learn better when they are doing both at once.


  2. Captions helps out a lot for international students like myself. My english learning started from watching TV shows like Friends with captions. Seeing it, and then at the same time hearing it helps me remember those words. However, if i would like to train my ears, i almost always turn the captions off


  3. Good reminder, Frank — yes, indeed, captioning is an outstanding form of communication for anyone learning English, or trying to improve their English.


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