What do a candle-lit dinner and an evening walk on the beach have in common?
The Oxford dictionary defines “romance” as “a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.” Every culture and language has its own idea of what is romantic. And nearly every culture also has its own movies about romance and love.
Romantic movies in English have a lot to teach us about love and relationships, but did you know they’re also great tools for learning English?
Even if you don’t love movies about love, it’s a good idea to watch one (or a few) of these 11 films to gain valuable knowledge about conversational English.
Who knows—you might even discover a new favorite movie type!
Classic Movies and Time
Just like every other kind of movie, there are good romance movies and bad ones. That’s why for this list we’re focusing on classic romantic movies.
A classic movie is one that has “stood the test of time.” This means it has been watched and loved for years, and is still watched and enjoyed even today.
All the movies on our list are over 10 years old (and sometimes more than 60 years old!), so they’re much-loved classics.
Of course, since many classic films are older, this means the language can be old too. If you hear a new phrase or word while watching any of these movies, check with a dictionary, teacher or native speaking friend to find out if that language is still used today.
Why You Should Learn English from Classic Romance Movies
Romantic movies are good learning tools because many times they focus on communication. You can learn conversational English from movies about love and romance, since casual speech is such an important part of growing close to someone. These movies can teach you how to talk to close friends, and how people who like—or don’t like—each other speak to one another.
The English used in this genre (type of movie) is different from something you would hear in an action movie, for example. In action movies the language is not as important as what’s happening on screen. But in these classic romance movies, the language is important.
Many of today’s new romance movies (or “rom coms,” short for “romantic comedies”) are called “chick flicks.” These are movies specifically made for women to enjoy. However, classic romance movies are not like today’s chick flicks. The themes and stories in them are universal, which means they can be enjoyed and understood by anyone.
The language of love is a fun way to learn better English, no matter what gender you are!
How to Learn English from Classic Romance Movies
When you watch a romantic movie, you might fall in love with the characters too. But if you’re watching to learn English, remember to notice the words and phrases the actors use. Here are some tips you can use for better learning:
- Use subtitles. Turn on the English subtitles when you’re watching so you can see the words spelled out. Pause to check words you didn’t understand or hear, but only if the word seems important to know. You can also stop and go back to any part of the movie if you want to see it again later.
- Have a pen and paper nearby. You probably don’t want to stop too often, because it’s important to actually enjoy the movie. Instead, keep a pen and paper next to you, so you can write down some words you don’t know. You can also write down the time for a point in the movie, if you want to go back later. (You can usually see this in the progress bar on the bottom part of the screen.)
- Pay attention when the two main characters are speaking. Many romantic movies show a relationship from before it begins to the happy (or not so happy) ending. The way the characters speak to one another changes as time passes in the movie. This change is an excellent way to learn about conversational speaking, and how it’s different with people you don’t know well, friends and lovers.
- “Listen” to the body language. You might think learning English is all about learning words and grammar, but there’s another kind of speaking that everyone does: body language. You can tell a lot about how people feel from the way they move their bodies and hands. Some body language has different meanings in different cultures. For example, nodding your head up and down can mean yes or no, depending on where you are in the world! So watch actors’ bodies while they speak to help you understand the English better. Through body language, you will learn about English-speaking cultures.
- Read the script. Did you know that you can read the actual scripts for many movies online? Websites like Script-O-Rama and Simply Scripts have the scripts for many movies available for free. It can be fun to see the movie’s written form, and it’s a good way to check anything you didn’t understand while you were watching the movie. You can also use the script to act out a scene with a friend after you’ve watched the movie.
- Read the reviews. When you’re done watching a movie, you can read the reviews for it. Movie reviews are where people write their opinions about a movie. Some good movie review websites are Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB. You can even write your own! It’s great reading or writing practice, and will show you how much you understood and learned from the movie.
11 Classic Romance Movies for Learning Conversational English
Below are 11 of our favorite classic romantic movies. Along with a summary and some links to where you can find the movie, you’ll find a quote. The quotes are lines from the movies, and they’re meant to show you a bit of the flavor of the movie—the kind of language and tone it has.
You can also watch most of the movies’ trailers in the YouTube link in the “watch it on” section. A trailer is like a 2-3 minute preview of a movie.
Of course, you can’t really know if you’ll like a movie until you try watching it, so if something looks interesting, give it a try!
Finally, keep in mind that romance films aren’t always appropriate for all ages. Check the rating of a movie if you’d rather not see these kinds of scenes. If it has an R rating in America (or 16 to 18 rating in much of the rest of the world), it might have inappropriate content.
1. “His Girl Friday” (1940)
Quote: “You’ve got an old fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever, ’til death do us part.’” —Walter Burns
Summary: When a newspaper editor finds out that his ex-wife just got engaged to someone else, he tries to win her back. Since his ex-wife is used to the action of being a reporter, the man believes she won’t be happy living a boring life with her new fiance. That means sending her to write one last story… about a murderer who might be innocent.
2. “Casablanca” (1942)
Quote: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” —Rick Blaine
Summary: “Casablanca” is a very famous old film. The movie is set in the early days of World War II, in Casablanca, Morocco. An American nightclub owner has to make a difficult decision. He can either help his old love and her husband escape from the Germans, or to stand by and do nothing.
3. “Letter From an Unknown Woman” (1948)
Quote: “By the time you read this letter I may be dead.” —Lisa Berndle
Summary: Lisa is in love with Stefan, gives birth to his child in secret, and plans to leave her husband for him… but Stefan doesn’t even know she exists. Although they meet a few times in their lives, every single time he doesn’t remember who she is. One letter can change all that, and explain why his life is in danger.
Watch it on: Amazon DVD (prices vary)
4. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
Quote: “It should take you exactly four seconds to cross from here to that door. I’ll give you two.” —Holly Golightly
Summary: Holly Golightly is a socialite, which means she is well known in fashionable society and very good at being in social events. Her life is very different from the life of the writer who just moved into her apartment building. Will their very different lifestyles prevent the love that’s beginning to grow between the unlikely pair?
5. “Harold and Maude” (1971)
Quote: “The earth is my body; my head is in the stars.” —Maude
Summary: Not every romantic movie is about physical love and attraction. When a 20-year-old boy obsessed with death and an 80-year-old woman who loves life begin a relationship, they try to understand the meaning of life together. “Harold and Maude” tells the story of two soul mates (people who are meant to be together) and shows how true love doesn’t care how old you are or what you look like.
6. “Annie Hall” (1977)
Quote: “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies.” —Alvy Singer
Summary: Every relationship has ups and downs—times when things are good and times when they’re bad. “Annie Hall” describes the ups and downs of a comedian’s relationship to a woman named Annie Hall. The story is told from the comedian’s point of view, and he sometimes even talks directly to the viewer, as he tries to figure out what led to his relationship, and why it seems to have failed.
7. “When Harry Met Sally” (1989)
Quote: “It is so nice when you can sit with someone and not have to talk.” —Harry Burns
Summary: Harry and Sally have been friends for a long time, but one question can change things: Can a man and a woman be friends without sex getting in the way? The pair want to keep things platonic (friendly in a non-sexual way), but you can’t choose who you love!
8. “Ghost” (1990)
Quote: “I love you, Molly. I’ve always loved you.” —Sam Wheat
Summary: Sam and Molly are so deeply in love, that their love continues even after Sam’s death. When Sam is murdered, he becomes a ghost, and does everything he can to save Molly from the people who killed him… with a little help from a medium (someone who can talk to ghosts).
9. “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993)
Quote: “Destiny is something we’ve invented because we can’t stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental.” —Annie Reed
Summary: You might have heard about “love at first sight,” but what about love at first word? An engaged reporter in Baltimore falls in love with a man from Seattle who she’s never met, when she hears him speak on a radio show. Deciding to take a chance, she writes to him, telling him to meet her in NYC on Valentine’s Day. Now that’s really following your heart!
10. “Lost in Translation” (2003)
Quote: “Can you keep a secret? I’m trying to organize a prison break.” —Bob Harris
Summary: When you’re translating from one language to another, sometimes the real meaning is “lost in translation.” In this movie, two very different English people meet in Tokyo, Japan and form a connection despite their age difference. The name of the movie refers to the different cultures of the Japanese and English, and the young and the old.
11. “The Notebook” (2004)
Quote: “Do you think our love can make miracles?” —Allie Calhoun
Summary: An old man reads a story to an old woman in a nursing home. It’s the story of a young couple who is pushed apart because of money, move on with their lives, then find each other again. Will their first love keep them together, or will they go on with their separate lives?
Romance —and learning—is in the air! Enjoy these classic romantic movies, and don’t forget to pay attention to all the great English you can learn.
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