Closed Captioning Improves Literacy in Children (and Adults!)

The statistics are astounding: 42 million American adults are illiterate and 50 million are unable to read higher than a 4th-grade reading level. Studies show that frequent reading improves reading proficiency, although sadly, according to the “Washington Post,” only one in four Americans actually read a book in the past year. Instead of reading books, the average child in America watches 20 hours of TV each week. How do we remedy this ongoing problem? What if watching television could actually improve literacy?

According to studies conducted in Finland, it can! Children in Finland watch as much TV as Americans and even attend school less. Yet, they rank higher in educational achievement and literacy. Jim Trelease states in “The Read-Aloud Handbook” that Finland’s high test scores are due to their use of closed captions.  Children in Finland want to watch American sitcoms but are only able to understand them by watching the Finnish words at the bottom of the screen. Therefore, they must read to watch!

Victoria Winterhalter Brame conducted her own study after reading Trealease’s book. In her article “TV that Teaches: Using Closed Captions,” she writes about introducing her daughter to closed captioning at a young age and that once her daughter started Kindergarten, she began to recognize her vocabulary words on the screen while watching television.

Perhaps there is a simple solution to this nationwide problem of illiteracy and reading deficiency: turn on the closed- captions!