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  • Hannah Charles

Are subtitles the way forward?

During the pandemic, children around the world have spent extended periods of time away from schools. Poor literacy skills have the potential to hold a person back throughout their life, and currently one in four children in the UK leave primary school without being able to read fluently. Research carried out by the World Book Day charity – which brings together the UK’s leading reading and educational charities including BookTrust, CLPE, National Literacy Trust and The Reading Agency – has found that the number of children reading has fallen since the start of the pandemic. There is significant evidence that shows how reading impacts future social, emotional, economic, and academic success so ensuring these figures do not increase is vital.

Throughout the last year, it has been reported that children are watching more TV than ever before with screen time increasing by two hours a day for young children since lockdown began. With it becoming increasingly difficult for parents to moderate screen time, a new campaign ‘Turn on the Subtitles’ has been born.

‘Turn on the Subtitles’ is a campaign that suggests individuals can get more out of watching their favourite shows and argues that subtitles should be turned on for all programmes aimed at children aged between 6 and 10. On average it is reported that the average child watches TV 11.8 hours a week, so turning on subtitles and making captions the default setting for kids’ TV could be an easy way to boost literacy, especially for struggling readers. This simple yet effective change can double the chance of a child becoming good at reading, it has been claimed. The campaign's website highlights a study of 2,350 children where 34% became good readers with schooling alone, but when exposed to 30 minutes a week of subtitled film songs, that proportion more than doubled to 70%.

The campaign claims to be the world's biggest literacy project and is helping over 300 million children to learn to read and is backed by a panel of leading experts and well-known figures. “Turn on the Subtitles” has support from Sky, WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS Networks UK who have partnered together, and from the 8th of March, subtitles of more than 500 of their most popular episodes of kids’ content have been available. It has also been claimed that Netflix and Amazon are also piloting permanent subtitles based on the campaign also, showing the strength the campaign is having overall. This campaign follows in the footsteps of India’s legislation where it has become a law that by the year 2025, at least 50% of children’s programming must have subtitles.

Reading is vital and this new campaign, although simple, has the potential to make a big difference. If you are interested in exploring the behaviours, needs and opinions of younger people further, drop Afra and Helen a line at /


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