Subtitling as an aid in academic literacy programmes: the University of Buea
Ayonghe, Lum Suzanne
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The purpose of this study was to examine the role that the use of subtitling can play as an aid in academic literacy (AL) programmes, particularly against the background of insufficient AL levels at the University of Buea (UB) and elsewhere. Essentially, the study wanted to investigate whether the AL levels of freshmen at UB would improve significantly if they were to be exposed to subtitled popular television programmes (dramas and documentaries) over a period of one academic semester, compared to the AL levels of students who were not exposed to these programmes. The literature survey provided an overview of the field of AL at tertiary level as well as of the use of subtitling in an educational context, clarifying the relevant terminology related to AL, and also investigating other studies that have been done on the benefits of the mode. The survey also investigated the language policy in Cameroon and specifically at UB. Apart from determining whether exposure to subtitled programmes has a positive effect on AL levels, the study also sought to establish which specific areas of AL are improved by exposure to subtitling (if any), and whether the choice of genre (drama or documentary) or the medium of prior learning of participants (English or French) has an impact on AL levels in English. In order to determine the above, the study exposed four test groups enrolled for the UB AL course to popular television programmes over a period of 12 weeks or one academic semester. Two of these groups saw dramas (one with subtitles and the other without) and two saw documentaries (one with subtitles and the other without). A fifth group was used as control group and did not watch any film. The data used was collected from the Test of Academic Literacy Levels (TALL) used as pre-test and post-test, questionnaires, interviews and observations. The study concluded that: 1. In terms of overall improvement, even though there was statistically significant improvement in all test groups (in the case of the weighted data), the improvement of the groups that saw subtitled films was statistically highly significant and had large practical significance. This indicates that the AL levels of the two groups that saw subtitled film improved more than those of the two other groups when compared to the control group. 2. Specific areas of statistically significant AL improvement revealed by the experiment were academic vocabulary, text comprehension and text editing abilities, as a result of exposure to subtitled film (and in certain cases exposure to film without subtitles). 3. The study found no statistically significant difference between the improvement of the two groups that saw subtitled film, indicating that either genre could be used for this purpose. 4. It would also seem that Anglophone and Francophone students benefited equally from exposure to subtitled film. On the basis of these findings, a model was designed for the implementation of subtitling as an integrated aid in AL programmes at tertiary institutions. This model provides for a general and specific integration of subtitled audiovisual material. The former has been used successfully in this study at UB, and it should be possible to make use of the general application of this model with similar levels of success at other tertiary institutions. The use of the latter (applying the model for specific integration) focuses on institutions with discipline-based AL interventions or specific AL purposes. It is important, however, that the model proposed in this study is further refined by ongoing research on its implementation.
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