Between a pebble and a really hard rock

Videos with subtitles aren’t quite ubiquitous yet, and as a language teacher I find this frustrating. Don’t misinterpret: providing subtitles to students so they can depend on them isn’t the idea. It’s a way to keep the message multi-modal, which just means that I think communication is done best when it’s done in a variety of (consistent) methods.

Too routinely at schools around the world amateurish videos are probably being filmed, downloaded, and played but it’s dubious if users, and especially ESL students, can digest the content when the message itself is garbled. A way out would be to make it easy to add subtitles.

The visual is also a principle means to get them engaged on the language itself. Not just for ESL students, either. Recently for an assembly I subtitled Dr Seuss’ The Screeches, a cute story about discrimination, and I had a debate with a native speaker about what was actually said and what the subtitles presented. I heard one thing, they heard another, and we shared our different interpretations in that context.

So why aren’t there any good, simple, free subtitle makers out there?

There’s iMovie — which any school user in a Mac 1:1 program will have — which lets you do text on the bottom. But not easily enough. Getting the timing right is a pain, plus it’s like 5 clicks per each subtitle. Um, yuck.

There’s an open source program that comes loaded with features, but upon opening that app I have no idea what the hell to do. Screw that.

You could, technically, actually write out a text file with the subtitles yourself. The format for the most common subtitle file format is incredibly simple. While feasible, I do think we need a GUI to speed up the input process just a tad, no?

In other words, making it easy for students to add subtitles to their video creations, or for teachers that find jems on YouTube, will probably remain the exception rather than the rule, given the software available.

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