Works for me: captions

When our daughters came home from Ethiopia last summer, an experienced parent of older adopted children told us that TV captions help kids learn English. We began turning on TV captions hoping to help improve the girls’ understanding, but since then we have discovered other benefits. In fact, our family has gotten hooked on captions.

Not only do captions help new English speakers, they help new readers. They give kids practice at reading. I think that being able to see the word as it is spoken might even help kids with spelling. Of course there are misspellings, esp. on PBS kids programming, I’ve noticed. But movie captions tend to be accurate. Sometimes one of our elementary aged kids will say, “I didn’t know that’s how you spelled that word.” (One caution about captioning movies: do keep in mind that captions will also display cuss words.)

But there are more benefits than disadvantages. As parents, we’ve discovered that watching movies with a bunch of kids is much easier with captions. Sometimes kids’ chatter can drown out dialogue, but with the captions, it is an easy thing to just read the words you’ve missed. This makes for more relaxed family TV viewing.

Captions are also nice after the little kids have gone to bed. Being able to read the words on the screen makes it easy to leave the TV volume a little quieter, making it easier for intermittant conversations, and offering less disturbance to sleeping kids in the back bedrooms.

Sometimes our captions get turned off accidentally. But when they do, we’ve gotten so used to them that someone is sure to soon ask to have them turned back on. TV captions– they work for us.


  1. I agree. Our closed captioning is always on. We discovered it when I turned it on one day while I was watching a Shakespeare movie. I’m such a visual learner, it was easier for me to digest the language seeing it as well as hearing it. We’ve never turned it off since. That was about 13 years ago. We love it.

  2. I always turn the captions on when watching BBC America or any other program where people are speaking with heavy accents. I find I get more out of the program when I can read the word- especially if I don’t understand the pronunciation!

  3. Great idea! Never thought of it for adults 🙂

    I work with a little girl who has autism and this was suggested to us in order to help her. She loves certain videos and the consultant suggested that this would add another dimension to an activity which she already enjoys engaging in.

  4. i always have to laugh though when they are totally wrong…. especially when its clear that the person writing the captions has no familiarity with the show and its characters.
    the wiggles on disney seems to be especially bad about that for some reason. lol

  5. Melissa says:

    I love captions too! I especially like them on DVDs where things are always spelled correctly.

  6. I wore out the CC on our TV and I miss it! I still watch DVDs with captions. It’s addictive!

  7. I’m a special education teacher and Col’s comment intrigued me. This is a good tip to keep in the back of my mind – might help someone somewhere down the road. The kids I work with right now have multiple handicaps, and it’s interesting, we watch/listen to some computer stories online, and often I turn the captions off because I find them annoying. Perhaps I should leave them on!

    It is interesting to me though – I’m a visual learner too, but I’ve always found the captions distracting. Maybe because I have ADD too?

    Anyway, thanks for the tip. Sorry for my rambling. 🙂

  8. My brother’s girlfriend bought a set of DVDs for my daughter that use this method! They’re very short “stories” that use captioning to help kids learn to read.

  9. English is my second language. When I first visited US I learned so much from movies and watching news. It was relaxing in a way. I did not have to respond to it but I got to hear it and see it.

  10. We’ve used CC since my oldest (now 12) was about 2. My husband worked an evening job and slept in late, and I wanted to see the Today show without waking him, so I tried CC. Wonderful! And since both my husband and I have some hearing loss, we’ve continued to use it ever since then – it prevents having to turn the TV up to ridiculous levels just to understand everything. And you are SO right, it really helps with young readers! I think it helped both of ours become early readers.

    CC is the one thing I miss about online TV viewing. It drives me buggy not to have it up there.

  11. What a great idea!!! I never thought of that! And when the characters or actors have heavy accents, that would help so much. My english learning sons are always confused by these guys and want to know if they are speaking English, and we go over accents again. This would help!

  12. My mom used closed captioning to help teach my baby brother to read and I have been using it ever since. I like it because it is easier for me to understand what is going on (have an auditory processing disability.) The kids used it to help them learn to read (playing Game cube and DS games also helped since Nintendo games seldom have much talking out loud but have tons of reading–the kids play Animal Crossing and HArvest Moon, both of which require much reading.)

  13. Melissa says:

    Thanks for sharing! My husband has been teaching himself Spanish and will only watch movies if they have Spanish subtitles! It’s great practice for learning any language.

  14. Great idea. I love it!

  15. Great idea!

  16. Ooh, ditto on CC…we love watching dvd’s with them…but haven’t thought of it for the kids.

    By the way, we have used the TV Guardian for several years now…it is a plug in device that filters out cuss words. This works great with CC. We got ours at Walmart. Sometimes it doesn’t catch everything..but we are grateful for all that it does catch.

  17. We’ve turned them on sometimes when we couldn’t catch what was being said or if the kids were a little loud. I never thought of it as a learning tool though. Great idea.

  18. I’ve decided that I must be going deaf due to the help of TV captions. This is not my happiest hour.

  19. You have a most excellent point!
    My mother is hearing impaired and I grew up with captions . I never attributed my love of words to this fact but I think there is a strong connection.
    Thanks for this post. It was a light bulb moments for me.

  20. We do exactly the same thing. We learned it from my hard of hearing friend.
    We have found that we’ve missed a lot of dialogue or misunderstood a lot of dialogue.

    We rarely watch it without it either.

    Great idea.

  21. I love captions. My hubby doesn’t. We are constantly turning them off and on.

  22. Oh, my gosh! I thought we were the only ones! I’m prone to terrible, endless, horrid and nasty ear infections (like the one I got in February and STILL have…) and that’s how we started watching movies and TV with captions. Now, my husband and I are completely addicted! I’m so glad to know I’m not crazy!

  23. We use captions all the time. I tried to get my in-laws to see the benefits (& they actually NEED Them) but no go…

    Word to the wise, TV Guardian replaces cuss words w/ silence and a captioned replacement. We found ours on eBay at reasonable price. It’s supposed to work for TV, DVD & video–anything that has regular closed captioning!