5 Reasons Why Captions and Subtitles are Awesome

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Ever watch a large ensemble show with an expansive world and strong accents (we’re looking at you Game of Thrones) and ask, “What did she just say?” This scenario highlights the importance of captioning and subtitling: instead of missing what a character said and getting concentration fatigue, captions will show you the dialogue and keep you engaged in the story.

In fact, according to a National Institute of Health study, the benefits of subtitling and captioning include better learning comprehension, attention, and memory of video content for all audiences, not just the hearing impaired or ESL learners.

As a localization studio with captioning/subtitling services, that’s great to hear! In this article, we will discuss five reasons why captions and subtitles are awesome. We will also address some of the arguments raised against them.

Please note: the benefits below apply to both captions and subtitles, though some of the examples may be specific to one or the other. We will go into more detail in benefit #3 on the differences between captioning and subtitling.

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1. Literacy

Former President Bill Clinton stated that in a Nielsen study, same language subtitling (e.g. English subtitles for English content) doubles the number of functional readers in primary school. That is an incredible statistic. For young students that don’t like to read but love watching cartoons, subtitles are a great way for them to gain literacy while also watching their favorite shows.

By connecting the words to the images and the audio, students who watch with subtitles will have better vocabulary acquisition, reading speed, and listening comprehension. As Clinton says, subtitles may seem like a small thing, but it has a “staggering impact on people’s lives.” 


2. Language Learning

At JBI Studios, we work with many different languages and know that being bilingual can have professional, personal, as well as a number of cognitive benefits as it turns out.

For those learning another language, captions can be a great learning tool. In the NIH study mentioned above, Japanese students learning English as a second language were shown a video with English audio with no captions, English captions, Japanese subtitles, and English audio only. Which group do you think recalled the content of the video better?

Surprisingly, the study found that Japanese students that watched the video with English audio and English captions performed better! They scored higher on their comprehension tests than their peers that watched the video with English audio and Japanese subtitles (their native language).


3. Accessibility

To the deaf and hearing impaired community, closed captions are essential for a fuller viewing experience. Here we will make a clear distinction between closed captions and subtitles: captions provide text for dialogue, music, and relevant audio elements in the same language as the video. Subtitles are the text of the dialogue and onscreen text in the video translated into another language.

So in a film, when [somber music plays] or when a [SCREAM] is heard in the distance, with closed captions our friends in the deaf community are along for the cinematic ride. Also, captioning videos can help you and your company meet legal compliance for the accessibility laws in your country. Unsure if you need closed captioning or subtitling for your video? We’re here to help!


4. Boosts SEO and Number of Views

Captions and subtitles can help you reach a wider audience by making it easier for search engines to find your content (boosting SEO). By including transcripts of your captions with your videos, search engines like Google can grab keywords from the text and index your video properly, which can lead to an increase of approximately 7% in organic search results.

Youtube dominates the online video space and the first two weeks are key in getting attention to a new upload. According to research by Digital Discovery Network, videos with captions can lead to a 13.48% increase in views in the first two weeks. That’s a lot more eyes on your video than if it had no captions.


5. Captions and Subtitles as an Art Form

As the viral tweet above mentions, captions can be an art form in and of itself.  Whether a character [cries] or [wails in despair] is a choice that needs to be made by a skilled captioner/subtitler. This art form gets pushed even further when translating from a foreign language.

A professional translator must be able to capture the meaning of the source language while keeping the same emotional, aesthetic impact. Shows like HBO’s Los Espooky (Spanish), have received attention for their inventive use of subtitles, while other shows like the Netflix release of Evangelion have sparked intense debate with theirs.

These examples show how nuanced and creative captions and subtitles can be and the need to have a skilled team to make the best decisions for your project.

Arguments For and Against Captioning & Subtitling

Some argue that subtitles take away from the viewing experience and can be distracting. Subtitles can sometimes also prematurely give away a joke or plot point. For instance, what would happen if you read a split second beforehand that a villain was actually the hero’s father?

These are valid arguments. However, these issues might be mitigated with careful timing and placement of the captions and a creative use of the subtitling form as mentioned above.

Also, it may be argued that subtitles actually keep you more focused on what’s happening on screen. Subtitles can act as road markers for the key things to pay attention to in a video.


Conclusion: Captions & Subtitles are Awesome

At the end of the day, you need to make your own personal decision whether to watch with subtitles or not. If you want to watch a film or show unadulterated by any onscreen text, go for it! If you want to recall the information presented in a video, learn a new language, or want to reach a wider audience, captions and subtitles are the way to go.

Want to know more about captioning/subtitling, translation, and localization? Click on our free e-book below!