Watch ‘Chitrahaar’, Learn Language

It is an interesting discovery, particularly for India where literacy is low and craze for film songs is high. One can speed up learning of a language using a subtitle in the language for the film songs in popular TV programme. Gurcharan Das in his column in last Sunday Times of India provides the story.

Girirajsingh Natubha studied up to Class 2 in Jamnagar. All his life he struggled to read simple words. A few years ago, however, he found to his surprise that he had begun to read. It happened quite amazingly after he began watching Chitrageet, a Gujarati television programme of film songs, which had subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Since he knew many of the songs, he could anticipate the next word. When it appeared he would read it unconsciously and sing along, karaoke style. Soon he found he was able to recognize words in the bazaar and before long he was reading headlines in the newspaper.

It is finding of Dr Brij Kothari, a social entrepreneur and an IIM Ahmedabad professor. ‘Same Language Subtitling’ is a simple but powerful idea, which is proven to improve literacy among adults and children. When lyrics are subtitled on film songs, and words appear in sync with the actor’s voice, the viewer makes a sub-conscious link of the spoken to the written word. Literacy, thus, takes a sudden leap for early and struggling readers.

It was while researching medicinal herbs of the Andean communities in Ecuador and watching Spanish films subtitled in English, that Dr. Brij Kothari had his `eureka moment’. “I think I told some friends who were watching with me, `Why don’t they simply subtitle these Spanish films in Spanish? And if they just did this on film songs in India, India would become literate!'” says Brij. That was in 1996, and since then Brij has been working at it, developing his simple idea into a literacy campaign. Same Language Subtitling (SLS) is a fun reading practice that not only helps early-literates and school dropouts, but also, according to Brij, “doubles and even triples the rate of reading improvement that children may be achieving through formal education”. SLS was tested at villages and railway stations before it was beamed nationwide through the popular programme, Chitrahaar.

Dr. Brij is perhaps the second professor of IIM, Ahmedabad, after Anil K. Gupta, Grassroots Innovation fame, whom I know doing something for commoner. Idea may be simple but if it provides answer to the poor literacy, why should it be not adopted whole-heartedly?

There are many ways to self-learning. The story started with Eklavaya is never ending. The other day, TV channels flashed the story of the Dalit boy who kept himself locked in a room with few videos of English movies and came out speaking typically perfect American English with all its slangs and nuances. Cartoon channels also are helping in making small kids learn English language faster. However, the dubbed ones will be useless for the purpose. Animated videos based on the curiculla can go miles in making teaching interesting. However, the schools need the equipment, and perhaps power sources that with rural electrification moving fast will be soon available.

But what about the change in the mindsets of teachers and parents! Will they consider listening to ‘Chitrahaar’ a good way to learn language?

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