The importance of subtitles in Education

The importance of subtitles in Education

In lectures and seminars, you may be showing some form of visual media; whether it be from Youtube, Vimeo, Social Networks or even a DVD. Having subtitles available is not only good for deaf students, but good for everyone.

Let me begin with students that don’t have hearing loss, as there are many benefits:
Students that don’t have English as their first language may struggle when watching English-spoken media. By having subtitles, it means that if they are struggling to “hear” the words, they can see them and try and work out the context.

Every student is unique – they will all have different learning styles.. some students may struggle to process auditory learning, and may prefer the visual or read learning. By having subtitles, you are being more inclusive.

For students that have resources that they need to watch within their self-study time; they may be somewhere that doesn’t allow noise from speakers or headphones. They may be in the library, in shared accommodation, commuting or perhaps even at work. They may even have a child, and be there watching it whilst the child is sleeping. By ensuring the content is subtitled, it makes their self-study time more appealing as they won’t have to put it off until another time.

For students that have a disability or deafness, here are the benefits:
If the student is relying on an interpreter to translate audio, then basically they aren’t watching the movie. It’s impossible to look at the interpreter and the screen at the same time. Because they aren’t watching the movie, they may be missing important visual cues as to what may be going on at the same time. All of this could be said about transcripts – if the student is reading the transcript, they are concentrating only on that. It’s also not fair on the interpreter; they have to absorb it, then translate it on-the-fly into another language, all whilst still listening to the original language to deliver the bit next. Things *will* be missed, no matter how good the interpreter is.

A student may have hearing aids and not identify as deaf – so may not have any communication support in place, or they may not identify as disabled, so may not have actually disclosed their hearing loss (or be unaware of it). Thing that come out of a speaker sound completely different to what comes out of a person’s lips, so whilst they may cope in a session, they may have issues with media.

There are also other complications the student may have – they may have an auditory processing disorder, or an attention issue – which may be helped by ensuring there are subtitles.

If the student hasn’t disclosed to fellow students that they need the subtitles, then you may be inadvertently “outing” them when a student asks for them – or they may just sit there and not actually learn anything.

Without subtitles, anyone that has any form of hearing loss will not be participating in this activity; watching the movie. You are effectively excluding them from it. Not only is this discrimination, but you may be negatively affecting their mental health. By having no subtitles, you are not being inclusive.

Now i’m going to talk about Youtube’s “automatic subtitles” feature. First and foremost, don’t use it. Full stop. Let me explain why… Automatic subtitles are never 100% correct. It’s impossible for their speech recognition to get it right as every person speaks differently, has different volume, tone, accent and so on. The moment you start an automatic subtitled clip, you’ve lost the interest and engagement of the deaf person. They’ve disconnected from you and the session. Imagine watching a clip, and the sound is all garbled, you’d turn it off. You’d lose interest. If students notice an incorrect subtitle, or something that doesn’t make sense, they then question the authenticity of the rest of the subtitles and stop watching. There is no point watching something that you don’t know if what it says it is saying is actually correct. It’s just wasting everyone’s time.

It is important that you are prepared. Don’t go to play the media, in whatever form it is, and hope that it has subtitles. You need to be pro-active, not reactive. You also need to check the quality and accuracy of the subtitles; in the same way you would watch a clip to ensure it’s suitability, you need to ensure it is suitable for everyone. Including checking the subtitles. If the subtitles don’t match the audio, then it’s not suitable to use.

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