Article / Published Sep 20, 2017

How to Turn Your TV into a Reading Teacher

What if I told you that, with the push of a button, you could increase your child’s reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge, improve their pronunciation of words, and boost their ability to remember what they’re seeing and hearing?

It sounds like something you might hear on a bad late-night TV infomercial — too good to be true. But the button exists. In fact, it’s on the remote for your TV. And you don’t have to order anything; all you have to do is turn on the closed captions.

More than 100 studies have demonstrated that displaying captions has some big benefits, especially for young children who are learning to read. Why? Mainly because the captions help students make the connection between written words, sounds and meaning, which is essential to reading. Kids see what’s happening (meaning), and hear and see the words that characters are speaking (sounds and text), all at the same time. The fact that captions often describe background noises and sounds as well as words (“upbeat music,” “shouting,” etc.), helps, too.

For the same reasons, closed captions can be a powerful tool for students who are learning English as a second language. For someone who is just beginning to learn English, turning on captions that display their native language over an English-language video can boost their ability to understand spoken words and phrases. Shifting to English subtitles can then help as students move on to reading in English. If your child’s not convinced, tell them about all the Major League Baseball players learning English by watching endless episodes of Friends with captions.

Supporting your child’s reading skills starts with making sure they have access to plenty of good books and reading with them every day. But it also means looking for easy ways to give them as much exposure to new words and written language as possible—and it doesn’t get much easier than turning on the captions while they watch their favorite shows.