Same Language Subtitles (SLS) is simply the concept of video subtitles in the same language as the audio. What you hear is what you read.

A nation of weak readers can be transformed into a nation of fluent readers. PlanetRead has served as the backbone of the SLS project since 2004 when it was founded separately as a non profit in both India and the US.

PlanetRead has run numerous SLS pilots on TV in Indian languages, built the evidence base, and championed SLS.

Co-Impact’s design grant nudged us to recast the SLS project as the Billion Readers (BIRD) initiative. BIRD proposes the integration of SLS with video-based entertainment and education content for reading literacy at a transformative scale.

Eye-tracking studies have shown that SLS exposure causes automatic and effortless reading practice even among weak readers. The evidence from pilot studies of SLS implementation on TV in eight Indian languages (Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada & Punjabi) is strong. Regular SLS exposure results in steadily improving reading skills among all viewers: children in and out of school, youth, and adults especially women and girls.

The gendered challenge to literacy makes it pertinent to design an intervention that is the least disruptive in women’s everyday life. Building on our rich evidence, we envision, for instance, a female weak reader burdened with responsibilities who switches on TV (and hence, switches on entertainment infused with reading practice), gradually becoming a functional reader without having to socially expose her reading ability.

Lyrics and children

Power to Effect System change:

Our power to effect system change lies in a fusion of purpose, partnerships, and collective action. Building on this, BIRD will have generated targeted evidence directed to win over policy-makers, TV networks, and streaming platforms. This will fuel wider acceptance of SLS and appreciation for its multifaceted value.

Technology as a Catalyst:

Led by technology partners AI4Bharat at IIT-M (some oversight by MIT) and coordinated by BIRD, we will have developed leading open-source Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology to subtitle content in 12+ Indian languages, with a minimum 85% accuracy and improving over time to 90-95% accuracy with AI.

Stories from the Field