Closed captioning helps TV-watchers learn to read

From Bret:

My wife got an unsolicited tip from a random grandma in a store: When your kid is watching TV (no comment on that), you should turn on closed captioning.  Random Grandma said her grandchild showed up for kindergarten reading at a third grade level. Haven't tried it ourselves since our kid's just hit six months, but we intend to when the inevitable happens.  I'm curious if anyone else has done this and seen good results.


Tags: ,


  1. Christopher Tackett says

    Not only did we have success by turning on the closed-captioning to help my son learn to read, we took it one step further.

    We limit the amount of time that he is allowed to play video games, significantly compared to his friends. However, I researched a game and found one which required extensive reading in order to win the game: GameCube’s The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker.

    We made a deal with our son. We allowed him to have up to an hour a day of video game time, but he had to play in front of us and he had to read out loud the words on the screen. At first he fought us because he didn’t like slowing down to read everything because he was clever enough to succeed in the game without reading all of the prompts. However, he was thrilled that he received more video game time than normal and we were thrilled becuase not only did his word recognition improve, but his reading comprehension improved!

    Use closed-captioning. It works even better if you have a DVR (like a TiVo) because you can mute the television and pause the screen in order to allow your emerging reader the necessary time to read what’s on the screen. We’ve had success doing this with “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”


  2. Annony says

    I’ve been doing this since before I had kids. When I lived in a foreign country, it’s how I learned to speak the language.

    Then, when I came back to the US, I realized how much people mumble – even on TV. I much prefer to read tv than watch it.

  3. KhadijaTeri says

    I have found that for learning a foriegn language the captioning can be a disadvantage. So much information is learned by watching someones body language and facial expression. If you are reading you are missing this. Also for English films and programs that are captioned in Arabic – the translations are often incorrect. I’m an EFL/ESL teacher and I suggest to my students to use DVD with captioning – first watch without the captions to see how much you understand. Then watch with captioning turned on – and the third time turn it off again. The students say this is really helpful.

  4. Katie says

    My husband uses this in his high school classroom (history) for the extra noise 25 shifting students make and to get names of place/event corrent when students have a assignment with what they are watching. We use it at home to keep the noise down once the kids go to bed.

  5. Lynn S. says

    My now-9-year-old daughter stumbled upon this all by herself. She taught herself to read with the closed captioning. It astonished us!

  6. oddharmonic says

    My six-year-old grew up with TV and video captions always on. I don’t know how much it contributed to her reading skills, but she does read a few grade levels above her current grade in school.

    I picked up the habit from a friend of mine that kept captioning on all the time because it allowed him to keep the TV at a low volume despite mild hearing loss.

  7. Velma says

    We did this by accident after our toddler turned on the closed-captioning and we absolutely could not figure out how to shut it off. We finally gave up and left it on, and after a few weeks, our preschooler was picking out words from the screen!

  8. Melanie says

    Sounds cool, I’ll have to try this! Of course we read way too many books anyway, so he may not even notice, but what the heck…

  9. Bill Reid says

    I’ll second this. I’m an ex performing musician and as such, have trouble hearing the TV in a busy room. All my TVs run CC constantly. My son entered kindergarden reading at 5th grade level, and that’s only because that’s as high as the testing went.

  10. B. says

    Jim Trelease comments on this in his Read Aloud Handbook. Apparently Finnish children enter school reading well because much of their TV shows are American, captioned in Finnish. That said, we turned on the captions one night in college and never turned them off. It’s often fun to see how the actual words spoken deviate from the scripts submitted to captioning.

  11. kjpegram says

    I agree that it helps. My kindergartener also is reading at a 3rd grade level and we attribute it not only to reading to him constantly-beginning in utero-but to the closed captioing for the sesame street videos he used to love. The on screen text reinforced what we were already doing….

  12. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Along the lines of on-screen text helping reading, I like the PBS show “Between the Lions.” Letter sounds, phonics, etc., but with great music, humor, and cute lion puppets (the mom lion’s dress is made from African cloth).

  13. Angela says

    What an excellant tool,
    my pre-schoolers learned some French w/ English captions, during our 4 month stay in France. I plan to use the Spanish captions while watching every dvd favorite, starting tomorrow!

  14. Mieke says

    Absolutely. Being raised in The Netherlands, it’s not as much Cc, but the subtitles. Almost all tv and movies get subtitled, not dubbed. So you will hear it in whatever the original language is, and read the translation. Not distracting at all, if that’s the only way you know. For the very young kids (who in general can’t read yet), things do get dubbed. At which point you can turn on the Cc, I guess :)
    Hearing many movies/tv in their original language really helps learn a foreign language.

  15. Tola says

    Yes, I used this since Day One. I wanted the baby to be able to sleep through anything, so when I put her down to sleep, I had the TV on (on PBS, much less mind-numbing than anything else at that time) for background noise. When she got old enough to stand in the crib, it would amuse her for a few minutes and I had time to finish another small chore before attending to her. As she got older and the Tv-viewing time was more monitored, I made sure the CC was on for two reasons: one, so that I could still follow the story if she was fussing, and two, so that when she was paying attention to it, the captioning would assist in word-recognition and earlier reading. She is age 12 now, and the captions stay on. My hearing isn’t as good as it once was and I prefer to have the captions than have the volume up.

  16. Cheryl says

    Ever since college, when living in close quarters with a lot of people made it necessary to be polite and keep my TV volume low, I’ve had captions on. I hear just fine, but I found it helps me comprehend the story lines better. If the action on the screen is rushing or someone mumbles, I can still stay on top of the story, and I can also remember what was said better since I have a photographic memory. My son is only 12 months, but I hope it helps him with reading skills.

  17. Sant says

    I’ve been watching tv with cc turned on for over four years, and the results are amazing. As a esl student I’m very interested in picking up what is said by just listening to it, so I am not really watching the writing, but when a word is not understood my attention goes to the cc.

  18. says

    Yep, totally. I knew it was happening because my oldest would point out mistakes on the closed captioning – “wait, that’s not what they said!” The middle two (twins) started to pick up on it all once we realized they couldn’t see & got them glasses. (Oops.) And the youngest is 2 and hasn’t started on the captioning yet, but CAN spell K-O-H-L-E-R while she’s on the toilet and H-E-R-S-H-E-Y-S when she’s eating her favorite little chocolates.

  19. Kendra says

    As an ex-caption editor myself (and now stay-at-home parent) I love the captions. They help me to catch what’s going on and explain things to my littler ones, and my oldest, in first grade, is getting to enjoy the letters Mommy insists on having on the screen. I’m delighted to see such a great tool as closed captioning being put to such a great use!