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Netflix has experimented with automatic subtitles for children’s shows in bid to boost literacy

Camilla Turner
·2-min read
Last year, the viewing platform ran a pilot in some "key regions"
Last year, the viewing platform ran a pilot in some "key regions"

Netflix has experimented with turning subtitles on automatically for children’s shows in a bid to boost literacy among youngsters.

Last year, the viewing platform ran a pilot in some "key regions". It is one of a handful of streaming giants that has been persuaded of the benefits of same-language subtitles for improving children’s reading skills and learning.

Amazon Prime has also created a dedicated carousel on their children’s page reminding parents about the option of turning subtitles on for popular programmes such as Gruffalo, Madagascar and Early Man.

Henry Warren, a tech entrepreneur, and his business partner Oli Barrett have spent the past two years trying to convince broadcasters and streaming platforms of the important role subtitles can play in helping children learn.

“Recent studies have shown that when children watch TV with subtitles on, it dramatically improves their literacy,” Mr Warren said.

“In fact, it can double the chances of children becoming proficient readers, and it’s completely free.”

He said that the average child watches 11.8 hours a week of television and even this has likely risen in the past year due to Covid, making it the perfect medium to subtly boost youngsters' literacy skills.

On Monday, Mr Warren and Mr Barrett launched their “Turn On The Subtitles” campaign, aimed at raising awareness among parents about the positive effect this has on children’s education.

Their campaign is backed by the National Literacy Trust as well as a host of celebrities including the comedians Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Sandi Toksvig.

A number of international studies have demonstrated over the past decade that children who watch television with subtitles are more likely to improve their reading skills than those who did not.

Some of the most extensive research has been carried out in India where an official Government project called PlanetRead studied children from low-income families in rural Delhi watching cartoons with and without subtitles in Hindi.

Researchers found that the average reading score of children watching with subtitles was 70 per cent higher than those who watched without.

Mr Warren, a tech entrepreneur who has three children under the age of 12, said: “Lockdown has meant that, despite my best efforts, they are watching way more TV than they should.

“Turning on the subtitles is one of those ‘no brainer’ ideas that can really help us as parents. I like to think of it a bit like sneaking vegetables into dinner, the children don’t notice, but you know you’re doing them the world of good.”