The project has completed a 23 years journey. And yet, the most critical policy step remains unaccomplished – quality implementation of the policy on TV channels.
Same Language Subtitling (SLS) is simply the idea of subtitling the lyrics of existing film songs (or music videos) on TV, in the ‘same’ language that they are sung in. SLS on songs cause automatic and inescapable reading practice and overcomes the motivational barrier to reading practice amongst weak readers. It is Karaoke on Bollywood for mass reading.
Its aim was to examine whether the subtitling of mainstream TV content could help people, especially those who were hard to reach through traditional literacy programmes, to improve their reading and writing skills.
In 1999, SLS was officially put into practice as a literacy intervention programme by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA), and the not-for-profit organization Planet Read.
The main approach of SLS is quite simple: to subtitle audio visual content in the language of the audio track so the on-screen text and audio match perfectly. While watching TV, viewers can match the words on screen to the sounds they are hearing simultaneously.
This is in addition to having massive national impact in two other domains, that of media access among Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) people and of language learning.
Eye-tracking studies have demonstrated that SLS gives automatic reading practice to weak-reading viewers. The evidence from pilot studies of SLS implementation on TV in eight Indian languages (Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada & Panjabi) is strong. Regular SLS exposure results in steadily improving reading skills among all viewers: children in and out of school, youth, and adults. A billion viewers in India watch four hours of TV every day, and will do so for life. Reading practice from SLS is incredibly cost-effective and scalable.
Globally, SLS for mass reading literacy was first conceived at IIM Ahmedabad in 1996. In 2019, after 2+ decades of evidence-based-policy-making, SLS became a part of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s (MIB) Accessibility Standards, under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Half the entertainment content on TV, in every language, state, and channel, is required to carry SLS by 2025. The international acceptance of SLS is growing.