Tech challenges – slowing down audio for ELL students

I take requests. This one is from Jason.

Situation: Middle School – Social Studies class

Lesson Plan: Utilizing YouTube’s crashcourse channel to show a video from one of the History playlists (there are several, and a bunch of other subjects as well).

Problem: The dialogue was too fast for some of the ELL students to follow. Could it be slowed down?

Solution: As a former library tech geek, I still follow relevant tech topics. I’d come across an article where the author spoke of speeding up the playback of some of the things he watched to make them take up less of his time. If that could be done, then it should be possible to slow videos down as well.

The solution is the VLC video player (software), from the folks at VideoLAN. Perhaps the most versatile video playback software around, it’s available for a number of operating systems (Windows, Mac, multiple Linux flavors, and even Android) and can play back just about anything you’ll ever encounter. (I made sure to have it on all of the library computers for which I was responsible.)

Download and install it. When you run it for the first time, be sure to go to the View option on the toolbar and check Advanced Controls. You’ll notice that this adds a second row of buttons in the lower left-hand corner of the player interface. One of these is a Record button – it’s possible, while playing something back, to hit Record and save just the section of a video that you need for class. That’s a lot quicker than using fast forward to find a particular scene.

For slowing down playback, you have two choices. If you use the [minus] key on the number pad, the playback is reduced in increments (2/3, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 of the original). If those increments are too large, go to Playback in the menu bar and select Speed. Each time you select Slower (Fine) the playback speed is reduced by 10% of the original speed (.9, .8, .7, etc.). The distortion of the voices during a reduced speed payback is minimal, so your ELL students should be able to follow it.

Playing back a YouTuble video is straightforward. Find the video you want on YouTube and copy the URL in the address bar. Open VLC, and from Media in the address bar select Open Location from clipboard (Ctrl+V is the shortcut). Paste in the URL and hit the Play button under the URL box in the popup.

(If you’re playing a video from the YouTube site directly, there is a speed control that you can get to via the Settings icon in the lower right corner. It offers fewer playback speed choices, and the sound distortion is greater than in VLC’s slowed playback. On the other hand, YouTube offers a Closed Caption option for subtitles; that isn’t an option if you play the YouTube video with VLC.)

What I haven’t tried: using the Record option while playing back a slowed YouTube video. If it worked you’d have a copy of the video at a slower speed, right there on your computer.