Subtitles for access to education: Exploring the impact of intralingual and interlingual subtitling of L2 English university lectures on cognitive load and comprehension.

Senne Van Hoecke University of Antwerp

This research project focuses on the subtitling of lectures taught in L2 English, more specifically on how subtitling influences student comprehension of lectures and on what mental effort that subtitling requires from students. This topic is inspired by one of the greatest challenges in higher education in the 21st century: providing educational access to an increasingly multilingual and multicultural student population.

This research project focuses on the subtitling of lectures taught in L2 English, more specifically on how subtitling influences student comprehension of lectures and on what mental effort that subtitling requires from students. This topic is inspired by one of the greatest challenges in higher education in the 21st century: providing educational access to an increasingly multilingual and multicultural student population. To face this challenge, many European universities are considering the possibility of using English as the language of instruction. Yet, a serious drawback to the use of English is many students' limited proficiency in English as a foreign language (L2 English). Subtitling might help to overcome the language barriers posed by L2 English, since it has shown to facilitate comprehension and knowledge acquisition. However, there are currently several knowledge gaps regarding the effects of subtitles on the processing and comprehension of lectures taught in L2 English. We will address the four most relevant knowledge gaps here. First, the potential benefits of subtitles have been studied mainly in the context of foreign language training, with very little research into benefits of using subtitling in other learning contexts. Second, very few studies on the processing of subtitles have measured to what extent subtitles are actually read, which is vital to understanding how subtitled lectures are processed. Third, it is crucial to know - for learning purposes - to what extent subtitles influence the mental effort (i.e., cognitive load) it takes to process subtitling. However, very few studies have measured the cognitive load that subtitling imposes on learners. Fourth, the effects of subtitled English lectures have been examined in students with a high command of English and who have had English as their main language of instruction in primary and secondary education. However, the effects on other types of students remain unknown. In this research project, we aim to address these four knowledge gaps in a controlled setting by conducting an experimental study among Flemish undergraduate students with different levels of proficiency in English. All students will watch three lectures taught in English: one lecture without subtitling, one lecture with English subtitles (intralingual subtitling) and one lecture with Dutch subtitles (interlingual subtitling). Students' eye-movements will be registered using eye-tracking. As part of the experiment, the students will fill out post hoc comprehension tests and questionnaires about the cognitive load they experienced. We will conduct statistical analyses to explore if student comprehension and cognitive load of English lectures are influenced by subtitling (present vs. not present), subtitle language (English vs. Dutch) and the students' level of English proficiency (intermediate vs. advanced).