Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Same-language subtitles, anyone?

How would you like 'Sholay' (the original Hindi version) with Hindi subtitles? Or, how about 'Nayakan' or 'Anniyan' with Tamil subtitles? Makes you wonder why, doesn't it? It has a great value in helping people become literate, says Dr. Brij Kothari, President of PlanetRead, an Indian NGO that received a grant from the Google Foundation.

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. And we've uploaded other examples there as well.

Read Dr. Kothari's post over at the official Google Blog. He links to some of PlanetRead's their videos on Google Videos, a service that is not yet available in India.


  1. Anonymous said...

    I don't know about the literacy factor, but same language sub titles will also help people who can't hear well to enjoy a movie.

  2. Abi said...

    Sowmya, you are right about the movies being more enjoyable to the hearing-impaired.

    Coming back to the literacy angle, isn't that how we all learnt to read? I mean, picture books with words below the pictures. Brij Kothari seems to be on to a good thing here.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Here in Israel, most TV programs and movies are subtitled, even though they are spoken in Hebrew. This is because we started to broadcast our own content in the 1970's, but we have had TV's since the late 60's. For ten years eveyone got used to reading the subtitles because there was no programing in Hebrew at the time.

    Also, Isreal has a very large immigrant population. Lots of immigrants improve their Hebrew by reading the subtitles alogn with hearing the spoken words. That's probably the reason that the subtitles have stayed for 30+ years.

  4. Abi said...

    DC: Thanks for the info on Hebrew subtitles on Israeli TV.

    Dr. Kothari seems to be making the same point in his post: he wanted Spanish subtitles on videos of Spanish movies, because he felt (rightly I think) that it would help him in learning that language better. I would really love to test this idea, except that I am not able to view (here in India) any of the videos he has uploaded to Google Videos.

  5. Anonymous said...

    Same language subtitling(SLS) is one of essential way to educate people.

    But wrong text/adaption can be deterrent to such process.

    Closed-Captioning should also be made complusory in countries like India for the deaf/heard of hearing population.

    Lawrence Vishnu
    Media Movers, Inc.