Research on Same Language Subtitling (SLS) in the Global North

The most sustained push for Same Language Subtitling (SLS) on TV for reading literacy has been in India, in research, sustained TV pilots, and policy.

The value of SLS/captioning for reading literacy has also been affirmed in several English and non-English speaking countries, for reading and language learning. Taken together, these studies are consistent that SLS exposure on audio-visual media directly contributes to reading development and language acquisition.

Subtitles cause automatic reading behaviour among children and adults

A key findings of eye-tracking research on subtitling is that viewers who have some decoding ability of the subtitles (script), just cannot ignore them and will exhibit automatic reading behaviour. Géry d'Ydewalle van Outryve is considered to be THE pioneer on proving that subtitles will be read inescapably and automatically. His list of publications is voluminous: He is retired and lives in Belgium.

Adults: d’YDEWALLE, G., PRAET, C., VERFAILLIE, K., & RENSBERGEN, J. V. (1991). Watching Subtitled Television: Automatic Reading Behavior. Communication Research, 18(5), 650–666. Article Link.

Children (Grades 5-6): d'Ydewalle, G., De Bruycker, W. (2007). Eye movements of children and adults while reading television subtitles. European Psychologist: the journal for psychology in Europe, 12, 196-205.

This is a foundational finding (which we also confirmed in India among extremely weak readers). Only if reading behaviour is exhibited in eye-tracking research, can any positive learning outcomes be attributed to the subtitles.

Here’s a sampling of research in the Global North on SLS and its impact on reading and language learning. Single studies can only serve as supporting evidence for the grand hypothesis that “SLS directly causes reading skills to improve.” But the preponderance of supporting evidence is in the direction that it does.


Good overview article on the benefits of subtitles: Gernsbacher, Morton Ann. “Video Captions Benefit Everyone.” Policy insights from the behavioral and brain sciences vol. 2,1 (2015): 195-202.

Linebarger, D., Piotrowski, J. T., & Greenwood, C. R. (2010). On-screen print: The role of captions as a supplemental literacy tool.  Journal of Research in Reading, 33(2), 148–167.

“Children were randomly assigned to view videos with or without closed captions. Captions helped children recognise and read more words, identify the meaning of those words, generate inferences regarding programme content and transfer these skills to a normative code‐related skill task.”

Linebarger, D. L. (2001). Learning to read from television: The effects of using captions and narration.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 93(2), 288–298.

“The present study indicated that beginning readers recognize more words when they view television that uses captions… the combination of captions and sound helped children identify the critical story elements in the video clips… In sum, television captions, by evoking efforts to read, appeared to help a child focus on central story elements.”

Deborah Nichols (earlier Linebarger) is at Purdue University and can be reached at:


Eye-tracking research at the University at Nottingham confirms that subtitles will be read: BISSON, M., VAN HEUVEN, W., CONKLIN, K., & TUNNEY, R. (2014). Processing of native and foreign language subtitles in films: An eye tracking study. Applied Psycholinguistics, 35(2), 399-418.

Bisson is now at De Monfort University, Leicester: The others are at the University of Nottingham. They could all potentially serve as UK-based experts to confirm that subtitles on children’s programming will be read.

New Zealand and Australia

Parkhill, Faye and Davey, Ronnie. 'I used to read one page in two minutes and now I am reading ten': Using popular film subtitles to enhance literacy outcomes [online]. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, Vol. 22, No. 2, Jun 2014: 28-33.

“A series of New Zealand studies and one in Australia indicate that, by using subtitles of popular movies and associated literacy activities, both reading achievement and engagement are enhanced, particularly for diverse and low achieving students. Same language subtitling (SLS) appears to evoke unavoidable reading mileage where reading skills are practiced subconsciously (Banks, 2012).”

Faye Parkhill is at University of Canterburry, and can be reached at: She could provide an independent opinion for NZ and Australia.

Canada and France

Baltova, I., 1999. Multisensory Language Teaching in a Multidimensional Curriculum: The Use of Authentic Bimodal Video in Core French. Canadian Modern Language Review 56 (1), 32-48.

Nicolas Guichon, Sinead Mclornan. The effects of multimodality on L2 learners: Implications for CALL resource design. System, Elsevier, 2008, 36 (1), pp.85-93.

“The results indicate that comprehension improves when learners are exposed to a text in several modalities. In addition, they suggest that L2 subtitling [SLS] is more beneficial than L1 [translation subtitling] because it causes less lexical interference.”


Birulés-Muntané J., Soto-Faraco S (2016). Watching Subtitled Films Can Help Learning Foreign Languages. PLoS ONE 11(6)

“The results of the listening skills tests revealed that after watching the English subtitled version [of English content], participants improved these skills significantly more than after watching the Spanish subtitled or no-subtitles versions.”


One of the main factors behind the good PISA reading results in Finland is attributed by Pirjo Sinko, Finnish National Board of Education, to: “Foreign TV programmes not dubbed but have subtitles – improves children’s reading routine.”:

See Book Development of literacy in kindergarten and primary school

“Alongside the overall finding that children’s reading skills contribute to frequency of their out-of-school reading, a bidirectional prospective impact was also found between reading and reading habits: the higher the amount of book reading, and the more likely children were to read TV subtitles, the better word chain reading they showed later on.”


It should be noted that Finland does not produce many television programs in either of their national languages. Therefore, children are often exposed to Finnish subtitles on the bottoms of their televisions when they watch any show or cartoon (Rothstein, 2001). If this happening, of captions on cartoons, is part of the reason for Finland’s undeniable successes in reading and literacy, then we should note that the quick word recognition is easy to replicate. Brueggeman, 2008, reiterates that children want to be able to read TV captions.”