Same-Language Subtitling: a possible learning revolution?

I always think that simple ideas can change the world: this one seems to me one of those. It seems to me so simple that I could not believe it was not implemented before. In short the idea is to use a karaoke subtitling on popular movies and song and make this available on mass media content. In this way, illiterate people can start associating the pronunciation of words with the written form.

Same-Language Subtitling:

My organization, PlanetRead, works in Mumbai and Pondicherry, India. We have developed a “Same-Language Subtitling” (SLS) methodology, which provides automatic reading practice to individuals who are excluded from the traditional educational system, or whose literacy needs are otherwise not being met. This is an educational program rooted in mass media that demonstrates how a specific literacy intervention can yield outstanding, measurable results, while complementing other formal and non-formal learning initiatives of the government, private sector, and civil society. We are fortunate to have just been selected as a Google Foundation grantee.

More than 500 million people in India have access to TV and 40 percent of these viewers have low literacy skills and are poor. Through PlanetRead’s approach, over 200 million early-literates in India are getting weekly reading practice from Same Language Subtitling (SLS) using TV. The cost of SLS? Every U.S. dollar covers regular reading for 10,000 people – for a year.

I hit upon this idea in 1996 through a most ordinary personal experience. While taking a break from dissertation writing at Cornell University, I was watching a Spanish film with friends to improve my Spanish. The Spanish movie had English subtitles, and I remember commenting that I wished it came with Spanish subtitles, if only to help us grasp the Spanish dialogue better. I then thought, ‘And if they just put Hindi subtitles on Bollywood songs in Hindi, India would become literate.’ That idea became an obsession. It was so simple, intuitively obvious, and scalable in its potential to help hundreds of millions of people read — not just in India, but globally. So you can see how it works, we’ve uploaded some folk songs using SLS into Google Video.

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