Like many seniors, I have difficulty understanding the spoken word in many of today’s television programs. I can understand most of what is said, but certain voices give me trouble.  Before you ask, yes I have a hearing aid and no (because I find them annoying and only somewhat effective) I seldom use it while watching TV. But since most programs are captioned, I listen to about half of what is said and read the rest.

Captioning is done in three different manners with various results:

1—For live broadcast a person instantly types whatever is being said on the air with equipment similar to what a court stenographer uses. Because it is difficult to keep up there are usually quite a few errors and missing words or sentences.

2—For prerecorded programs, a person has the time to type up the captions and even look up spellings or other information if needed. They strive for 99% accuracy.

3—For some programs speech recognition software is used to convert the spoken word to the written word. This is working better all of the time but seldom used because it still has problems with many words especially those that sound similar (it can be hilarious when a word like “sex” is used instead of “six”).

In general, I don’t have a problem with the way programs are captioned.  I can accept the fact that keeping up with a live speaker is difficult and it will take awhile for the technology to improve to achieve better results. Here’s what I have problems (and they all have to do with prerecorded programs or movies) with:

1—The captions come on the screen way before or way after the actual words are said by the actors or commentators. As I said, I listen to most of what is said and understand it. I only look at captions when I don’t understand what I heard. If the caption comes on too early, it’s gone by the time I look for it. If the caption comes on too late, I miss hearing what is being said when my attention is focused on waiting for the caption to come up on the screen. Ideally (for me) the caption would come on only seconds after it is spoken.

2—Captioneers (I guess that’s a word} who simply can’t spell, never check their work, and don’t worry about getting all the spoken words or even whole lines of speech on the screen. This is simply incompetence or laziness on both the part of the person doing the captioning and whomever is responsible for providing this service in the first place.

3—Captions that flash onto the screen for just a second or two and are impossible to read in full. Again, it’s just that no one is bothering to look at captioning as it appears on the screen.  Even though most programs are well captioned, there are just too many shows where the captioning is slap-dash and it is obvious that no one looks at (or cares about) the final results.

If you are as annoyed by poor captioning as I am, I have two suggestions:

1—Contact the television station, network, or film production house to let them know how important good captioning is to you.  I have tried this, but so far have only been ignored or received back stock answers that don’t address the problem.

2—Contact the people who like to sponsor program captioning (they are usually identified at the very end of a show) and express your displeasure with the captions that they are responsible (and paying) for.  I’ve recently tried this and am waiting to see if I get a better response. I expect that where sponsors (and customers) are involved they may be more sympathetic (why would you spend money on providing something that annoys the very people you want to impress).  There are millions of us seniors. We deserve a little more attention than we’re getting. (We deserve not to have to rewind a show every few minutes to see what was said.)

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Pet Peeve: TV Program Captioning
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