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How Captions Can Benefit Everyone: From Language Learning To Silent Viewing

Hand is holding Black clapperboard or movie slate on black background.

It’s a Friday evening and I am dressed in my pyjamas, in anticipation of a relaxing night in with my partner. We have chosen a movie in preparation, which is paused at the beginning, ready to play. We pick up our glasses of wine, clink them together in a toast to the start of the weekend, and press Play. Oh no! The movie starts to play and when the dialogue begins there are no captions. Without any text to provide information about the audio, our relaxing evening is put on pause as we search for a more accessible film.

As someone living with hearing loss, I always activate the closed captions on a movie; without them, I would only understand a fraction of the dialogue and would probably miss the plot completely. I find it particularly difficult to hear speech over loud sound effects and background music. Without captions, the effort needed to focus on listening over the soundtrack and trying to mentally fill in any gaps between missed words, while studying the body language and movements of the characters, leaves me exhausted and I usually abandon the film altogether.

Subtitles and Captions – What’s the Difference?

There are different options for adding text that visually displays dialogue on media such as movies and TV shows, namely captions and subtitles.

Strictly speaking, subtitles are a translation of the audio into a different language, whereas captions are the text version of the audio content. Captions are referred to as subtitles for the hard of hearing and include any other relevant audio such as descriptions of sound effects and music.

There are closed and open captions. Closed captions (usually identified by a [CC] symbol) are optional and can be activated or turned off depending on the requirement of the viewer. Open captions, on the other hand, are part of the video and cannot be turned off.

Why Add Captions to Media?

Displaying the text of audio on movies, TV shows etc. can benefit all audiences, not just those with hearing loss. Here are a few reasons why I feel captions are vital for accessibility and are also a positive addition to the viewing experience for everyone.

1. Subtitles Provide Language Support 

Perhaps your target audience isn’t a native speaker, or you want to reach a wider population. Subtitles make media in different languages accessible to non-native speakers, meaning your content can be enjoyed all over the world.

Subtitles are also an effective aid for learning a new language. Whether you choose foreign-language subtitles or native-language subtitles, watching a movie or a TV show in another language with audio text can be an engaging and effective learning tool.

Furthermore, if watching a movie or show with a child, enabling closed captions can help develop their reading and language skills.

2. Captions Enable Silent Viewing

There are times where activating the sound on videos isn’t appropriate. Imagine you’re in a public place such as a coffee shop, and you want to watch a video on your mobile phone; it wouldn’t be respectful of the other customers to turn on the sound.

Giving the viewer the option to activate captions for video content means that they can mute the audio and watch your content anywhere without disturbing others.

3. Written Dialogue Assists Attention and Comprehension 

Since I started watching movies with the captions enabled, I pay more attention to the content than before my hearing loss, as I am actively following the dialogue through reading. Combining a visual representation of speech along with the program audio, holds the viewers’ attention, meaning they are more engaged.

In addition to dialogue, captions also capture other relevant sounds, which give the audience a more immersive experience. Those moments of a movie where the volume of the soundtrack increases and words fade until unintelligible into the background, that phone call in a hushed voice, whispered comments—they are all revealed through the power of captions.

There are many benefits to adding captions to media. To anybody in the process of producing a movie, TV show or anything with dialogue, I urge you to provide captions. In particular, I believe the services we pay for, such as subscription-based media streaming services, should be as accessible as possible for all and therefore should always include the option to enable captions.

Not only do captions improve the accessibility of media content for people with hearing loss, but they can also benefit the viewing experience of all and help to reach a wider audience.

Assess the Seating Arrangements

Be strategic about where you sit. Perhaps you have the best chance of hearing conversation if you are sitting at the end of a table, or maybe you prefer to sit where you have a clear view of people’s lips for lipreading. If you have an optimal seating position, make sure you sit there—people will be happy to swap seats if they understand the reason. If the party venue is a restaurant, it can be a good idea to mention your needs at the time of booking and request a corner table where there is less background noise.

Use Visual Cues 

Using simple visual cues such as moving closer to the speaker or cupping your ear with your hand, can act as gentle but effective reminders to others about your hearing loss.

Most importantly, it is important to be kind to yourself. Even though you may not hear everything that people around you are saying, you can still take part in conversations when you feel comfortable to. Enjoy the celebrations and appreciate the time spent with loved ones. Holiday gatherings can be a challenge for people with hearing loss, but by employing a few simple measures they can still be enjoyable experiences.


Carly Sygrove is a hearing loss blogger who lives in Madrid. She loves: spending time with her sister, walking in the countryside, getting lost in Madrid with her boyfriend, travelling, going out for breakfast, her family and friends, yoga, listening to music, storytelling podcasts, baking, running, drinking wine, and eating spicy food.

In 2016, she experienced a profound sudden sensorineural hearing loss in her left ear. She started a blog as a way of sharing her experiences of living with single-sided deafness, and the challenges posed by hearing loss on her everyday life.

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