The impact of same–language subtitling on student comprehension in an English as an Additional Language (EAL) context
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the impact of Same-Language Subtitles (SLS) on the subject-specific comprehension and the academic literacy levels of EAL students on the Vaal Triangle Campus of North-West University (NWU). Essentially, the study aimed to determine whether exposing students studying through English as an Additional Language (EAL) to subtitled lectures (live or recorded lectures) would help improve their comprehension of the academic content as well as their receptive academic literacy skills, compared to students who were not exposed to subtitled lectures. This study stems from the identification of an academic performance-related issue on the Vaal Triangle Campus of NWU. Indeed, campus statistics show that the throughput rate of EAL students remains low, and that these students‟ academic literacy levels are inadequate. In other words, EAL students on this campus are underachieving and seem to have difficulties in mastering academic English. Based on various studies that showed SLS to be a valuable tool in terms of learning and academic literacy, this study proposed to introduce SLS (both live via respeaking and offline) in the university classroom as a learning aid, thus optimising the time students spend in lectures. Very little information was available in South Africa on the impact of SLS on the subject-specific comprehension of EAL students in a tertiary academic context. Furthermore, it had been anticipated that a certain number of technical constraints were likely to be encountered during the empirical investigation. These two factors made it difficult to predict what other factors could influence the outcome of the study. As a result, the study was based on the principle of Action Research, a research method characterised by the fact that the research is carried out in as many cycles as may be necessary in order to achieve the optimal conditions for a specific intervention. Three cycles were necessary to reach the optimal design of the present study so that a confident conclusion could be made regarding the impact of SLS on comprehension and academic literacy. For each cycle, the intervention was carried out over an academic semester. In the first cycle, a test group composed of EAL first-year Economics students was exposed to live SLS via respeaking during class, while a control group (also composed of EAL first-year Economics students) attended the same class at a different time, without SLS. In the second cycle, the live SLS via respeaking were replaced with offline SLS. The intervention was taken out of the regular classes and was carried out in the context of practical revision classes scheduled specifically for the purpose of the intervention. The test group viewed subtitled videos of lectures, while the control group viewed videos without subtitles. After each viewing, all participants were required to complete a short comprehension test. This cycle was also conducted in first-year Economics. The basic design of the third cycle was similar to that of the second cycle, but for the fact that the intervention took place in the context of a Psychology module, which, unlike the Economics module, was taught without the lecturer making use of slides. After these three research cycles were completed, it could be concluded that offline SLS indeed have a positive impact on the subject-specific comprehension and the receptive academic literacy skills of EAL students in a tertiary academic context. This conclusion was supported by the following findings: 1. The first research cycle pointed towards a slight, but statistically insignificant benefit in terms of both comprehension and academic literacy. However, at this stage of the empirical investigation, the technical constraints made it difficult to draw a precise conclusion in that respect. 2. In the second research cycle, the SLS seem to have had a significant impact on the receptive academic literacy skills of the test group, compared to the control group. However, no such impact could be noted in terms of subject-specific comprehension. This was attributed to the presence of a confounding variable, namely slides used during the lectures. This once more made it impossible to draw a confident conclusion regarding the impact of SLS on comprehension. 3. The third research cycle made a more confident conclusion regarding the impact of SLS on subject-specific comprehension possible. Indeed, the results of the statistical analyses show that the test group performed significantly better in their semester test (covering the work done in all the recorded lectures) than the control group, which was not exposed to any videos at all. On the basis of these findings, it was concluded that SLS in their offline form have a positive impact on the subject-specific comprehension and the receptive academic literacy skills of EAL students in a tertiary academic context, specifically if the students are given sufficient time to get used to the mode. This study seems to indicate that the benefits of SLS for comprehension can be recorded provided that students are exposed to the intervention over a longer period of time. However, there may be further scope for refinement as far as this study is concerned. It is therefore important that the topic be investigated further.
- Humanities