Blog 17th Jun 2019
Boy watching television and girl using digital tablet in living room at home

When you think of subtitles – or captions – what springs to mind? That they are useful when you can’t turn the sound up on your phone in a public space? That they provide accessibility and understanding to videos and tv programmes for the deaf or hard of hearing community. Me too… until recently when I read an article in The Times by Greg Hurst. The article is titled Subtitles on children’s TV boost reading skills.

The article states that “International studies showed that primary school children who watched television with subtitles were more likely to reach expected standards of reading — and more likely to handle advanced texts — than those who did not.” In a generation where children are exposed to hours of television programmes or on-demand content on tablets, it’s a wonder why this has never been thought of before.

It’s no secret that automatic speech recognition (ASR) has improved leaps and bounds over the past few years and is increasingly being used across all platforms to subtitle content, improving accessibility for the deaf community or situationally disadvantaged people. I’ve worked closely with subtitling technology and of course, ASR for over two years and I admit, I didn’t see this one coming. The application of subtitles automatically switched on for children’s programmes as a learning tool has never come up. So why not?

Well, the technology is there to do it, but it is ultimately at the discretion of the broadcasters to switch on subtitles by default. And it doesn’t come without its challenges. Whilst ASR is a cost-effective solution to providing subtitles, there are still challenges when it comes to background noise in the programme affecting the quality of audio going into the ASR engine. It is also important to ensure punctuation is used correctly in the subtitles to provide children with the right education. These challenges must be taken into consideration with regards to improving child literacy.

We work with educational platforms such as Instructure and Udemy that provide educational learning tools to people globally. Specifically, we work with Instructure to subtitle educational videos to ensure all content on their video platform – Arc – is accessible. Ensuring the videos are subtitled encourages self-learning of reading and listening at the same time but also expands the audience to include those that are deaf, hard of hearing, disabled or situationally disadvantaged. The introduction of “always on” subtitles for children’s programmes can only expand and enhance the opportunities that are already available on the market today.

Either way, in a world where we are always striving for more knowledge and faster learning, I’m excited to see another use case coming to the fold for ASR and subtitling that improves accessibility and to witness our innovative technology advancements continuing to have a positive impact on society. It seems that Peppa Pig really could educate future generations in more ways than we thought.

Georgina Robertson, Senior Communications Manager, Speechmatics