Sunday, October 10, 2010


Using the simple tool of Same Language Subtitling (SLS) on popular song-based television programs, sharpening the literacy skills of an estimated 200 million ‘literates’ or ‘neoliterates’ who have weak reading and comprehension skills, despite having attended at least primary school became possible. By superimposing subtitles on visuals in the ‘same’ language as the audio,reading becomes a byproduct of entertainment already consumed by the audience.

(A joint venture of PlanetRead and IIM Ahmedabad, SLS has combined the tremendous reach of India’s national broadcasting agency, Doordarshan, with the enormous appeal of film songs, to give lifelong reading practice to early literate persons.)

The salient features of SLS are:
  • The subtitles in the same language are in perfect synchronization with the audio track—one reads what one is hearing.
  • SLS requires no behavioral change on part of the viewer—it slides onto the visual in a non-obtrusive manner at the bottom of the screen.
  • Reading skills picked up in school or adult literacy classes are automatically practiced at home as song based programmes attract high viewership.
  • Drawing on the learnings from karaoke and closed captioning, SLS also provides reading practice for the hearing impaired. 
The data analysed by the SLS team yielded the following results:

  • In the group, not exposed to SLS programs, only 25 percent school children could read a simple paragraph in Hindi after five years of schooling.
  • This figure jumped to 56 percent, (reading the same paragraph), for respondents exposed to subtitling for 30 minutes a week on Rangoli a popular song-based programme on TV.
  • Exposure to SLS led to higher rates of ability to write one’s name (82 percent vs. 55 percent), home address (56 percent vs. 34 percent) and familiarization with any five words (72 percent vs. 45 percent).