Why you should you change the way you watch TV

Everyone wants to feel like they have the intellectual edge, particularly when you know you are up against a gang of certified clever clogs. But how do we know the best way of using our brains? Grace B found her answer when watching a TV staple, good old University Challenge!


university challenge been on TV for 50 years


For more than 50 years, University Challenge broadcast contests between some of the UK’s smartest students in rounds of seemingly impossible questions. Many of the young contestants have gone on to become well-known public figures in later life and include the likes of David Starkey, Stephen Fry and The Wizard of New Zealand (more on him here).


University challenge fry


Whilst the challenging questions may be within the intellectual grasp of a wizard, I still like to tune in for a cerebral workout. I used to consider it a job well done if I could get one question right per episode. It was only with the accidental addition of subtitles* that I learnt a new trick to staying one step ahead of the brain-boxes on screen. When watching University Challenge with the subtitles on, I doubled my success rate, averaging two correct answers per episode. That’s a 100% increase, for those as good at maths as me!


Why is this so? Is it actually something to do with the subtitles?


University challenge leather vest
It made for good viewing as well as listening, when this guy wore a leather vest


The idea that we all process information and learn in very individual ways is not new. Researchers have come up with applied models, such as VARK, which suggests that four ‘sensory modalities’ contribute to the learning process: Visual, Auditory, Reading/writing and Kinaesthetic. The theory goes that we can ‘all maximise our learning capabilities by harnessing the combination of modalities which suits us best’. (More on that here). Each of us have our own ways for absorbing maximum information. Whether it’s through one modality or all four, figuring out our ideal combination of modalities means performing at our best.


university challenge gif


Of course there are arguments to every theory and the jury is still out on such matters, but I do wonder if there might be something of this ‘modality’ theory reflected in my University Challenge subtitle love. It certainly makes sense that receiving information in two different ways simultaneously (hearing and reading it) could be enough to give me the intellectual edge over my hearing-only companions.


VARK Four ways of learning


Foreign language learners often find that watching their favourite TV shows, with subtitles, in their target language works as a great learning tool. Maybe a spot of Breaking Bad in Portuguese is all you need to send you off on the path to fluency, or perhaps Making a Murderer in Swedish is more your kind of thing? The joy of Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer and their ilk is that often a plethora of subtitles are available at the click of a button, in a wide range of languages.


So the humble subtitle may well have a lot to teach us about learning after all!


The next time you’re grappling with a difficult concept and the words aren’t sinking in, add an additional ‘modality’ and see what world opens up to you!


*Subtitles (the correctly transcribed variety, not the automated, non proofread type)

Take Note’s media department have eight years experience in providing subtitles to media production departments, adding subtitles to video, film or for those hard of hearing. If you are looking for advice on the benefits of adding subtitles to your audio, contact the team today.

Also on the blog:


icon_notetaking_active Subtitles – who needs ’em?


icon_notetaking_active Why your podcast needs transcription?