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To caption or not to caption:

Regarding captioning of videos posted to Youtube, Facebook, and/or other online platforms:

As someone who personally will only watch movies with captioning I certainly do understand why some people are outspoken and insistent about their desire for all videos to be captioned.

When a person comments or shares their feelings regarding captioning I consider it a “vote” for and an “encouragement” to others to caption their videos.

In my case, the decision to caption or not becomes a matter of time economics or “opportunity cost.” It is literally a choice between having the time to make one captioned video or three non-captioned videos. Even typing this “comment” here on Facebook requires me to consider “Should I spend time replying to a Facebook post – or should I instead invest my time in creating an ASL Lesson and posting it to Lifeprint?”

I do not read German. If I want to read a book in German that is not “captioned” in English the argument could be made that the German author just lost a reader by not taking the time to caption his book. However, the German author could instead use that time to write a second (German) book and get gobs of additional (German) readers for his/her second book.

This is not a matter of “access” or “discrimination.” The author writing in German doesn’t prevent me from being able to *eventually* read both of his/her books since they are already in a format (written / typed) to which I have access (my eyes work).

I have access to his/her work.

What I lack is “understanding” (since I have not yet put in the effort to learn German).

You could argue that the German author will lose money due to my not buying his/her book. Yes, but perhaps he will sell more of his/her second book to more Germans to make up for my lack of purchasing it -- eh? Or maybe his goal is to create more readers of German. Providing an English text would “discourage” rather than “encourage” more people to learn German.

On a personal note, if I wanted to read a book written in German I would not contact the author and tell him/her to caption his book with English below each sentence. Instead I would go study German for a couple of years and then come back to the book and read it.

Yes, yes -- of course chances are that book will eventually evolve to an electronic format and be “automatically translated” into English. Likewise eventually AI (so called artificial intelligence but actually just “electronic intelligence”) will be able to effectively translate sign language into other languages. (Doubt if you wish. Live long enough and you will see it.)

On my channel ( I tend to use an approach I call “text scaffolding” rather than full captioning. I often combine signing, PowerPoint slides, and occasional typing. It is important to consider the goal of any particular video. My goal isn’t to “share information.” Nor is it to “entertain” (however I do like the so called “edu-tainment” concept). Rather my main goals for most of my videos are to:

1. Instruct
2. Provide an immersive practice environment.

Thus I constantly consider the question:
“What amount of scaffolding (first language text or “context”) will best help my students build their target language knowledge and skills?”

Too little scaffolding and the student gets “frustrated.”

Too much scaffolding and the student gets “bored” or doesn’t progress in their L2 (second language) processing skills because they are too busy using their L1 (first language) as a “crutch” (similar to trying to build muscles without lifting weights).

It then becomes an impossible but worthy task to attempt to find the “perfect” ratio (of scaffolding). It is impossible because with over a hundred-thousand subscribers -- each at individually varying levels of skill and comprehension -- there will always be those who would prefer less "captioning" (scaffolding) and those who would prefer more.

The (partial) solution (or approach) is to offer a range of instructional videos at varying levels of complexity and a companion website (Lifeprint) wherein those who prefer more “text” (or context) can first go pre-study the individual vocabulary items and sentences for a particular lesson and then come back to the channel and watch the instructional video. Another interesting (to me at least) aspect of (Web 2.0 or the “interactive web”) posting an instructional video to Youtube (or Facebook or various other interactive / comment-capable platforms) has been the tendency for students to post time-specific links in their comments below the video to ask, “What is Dr. Bill signing at 3:15?” At which point a group-effort is set in motion wherein those who “do” understand what is signed get a feeling of challenge, accomplishment, and camaraderie by posting the answer.

In considering “Should *all* videos be captioned?” I encourage us to reflect on the fact that “this” Facebook group is intended “specifically” for “American Sign Language learners, teachers, interpreters, and parents of Deaf children” who have been instructed to ask themselves before posting: "Does this question or comment in some way help me or someone else learn American Sign Language or learn about ASL-related Deaf Culture?"

Since this group is for learning and discussing “ASL” and *not* for random entertainment nor venting nor kvetching -- I do think it is relevant for individual viewers who may be frustrated to ask themselves two questions in regard to *signed* video postings:

1. Am I not understanding this (signed) video because it isn’t captioned?

2. Am I not understanding this video because I personally haven’t invested the time yet to learn ASL?
(By, for example, systematically going through all 60 lessons at, or watching the corresponding channel, or studying from some of the many other online content providers, or finding a local class or tutor, etc.)

Obviously the answer can be “both.”

The first answer puts the responsibility on the “other” person. (And doesn’t take much personal effort.)

The second answer puts the responsibility on one’s own self. (And takes a massive amount of personal effort and patience.)

I certainly appreciate and empathize with the “general” push for captioning of “voiced” videos because it is actually a desire for “access” and “understanding.”

On the other hand, regarding “signed” videos in *this* group I think that it is reasonable to ask or encourage people to:

1. Focus on learning ASL first in the online lessons or a classroom environment and thus empower yourself to better understand the signed videos.

2. Ask specific questions about specific signs you see in the video that may be confusing to you.

3. Use your mouse or thumb and scroll past any videos that are beyond your current capabilities.

4. If you feel strongly about wanting to understand a particular video make a note of the location of that video and then come back to it in a couple of months later after your skills have improved.

5. Feel free to lobby for increased captioning but try to do it in a polite manner without yelling at folks.

- Dr. Bill




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