When you learn English with movies, you’re taking a wild adventure.
You’re learning new words from pirates.
You’re practicing pronunciation with animated fish.
You’re falling in love with the language while characters fall in love on screen.
Sounds like a more fun way to learn English, right?
So today, I want to share my favorite films to learn English with movies.
I’ll also give you some tips to help you learn new words and phrases while you watch, from repeating phrases to watching with (and without) subtitles.
But you can rest assured that you’ll enjoy watching the movies at the same time.
Okay, let’s press play!
Why Learning English with Movies and Film Works
Perhaps you’re still wondering if you can really learn English with movies.
After all, watching movies is supposed to be fun, right? So, how can you learn while having so much fun with the film? And more importantly, why should you learn English with movies instead of with textbooks?
Here are three reasons I believe it works, and why I recommend learning the language this way.
- You’ll get to learn real English… not textbook English. The English you learn through textbooks or in ESL class is not what you’ll hear people say on the street. For example, in beginner English classes, you might have learned how to say “nice weather we’re having” or “it’s raining cats and dogs.” While these phrases are technically correct, we almost never say these in real life.
In contrast, the English spoken in movies is very natural. It’s also very close to what you’ll hear if you speak with native English speakers too. This will help improve your spoken English.
- You learn English words in context. This is one of my favorite aspects of watching movies. Let’s say that you like watching crime films (these are great!). After watching 10 or 20 movies, you’ll start to learn vocabulary related to the context, or subject, of crime.
Usually, when we learn words traditionally (e.g. in school), we study things like vocabulary lists. The problem with learning new words with vocabulary lists is that you can learn what words mean, but not where and how they are used.
For example, let’s say you learn the new word “detective.” From the dictionary, you’ll know what that it means “a person who investigates crimes”. But unless you use it, it can be easy to forget. It also doesn’t give you an idea where the word is used most frequently, and how it is used.
On the other hand, if you learn the word “detective” through watching crime films, you’ll know “detective” can mean many things. For example, it can be a title in front of a person (e.g. “Detective Beckett”). Or maybe it’s the noun referring to the job (e.g. he’s a detective). And maybe you’ll even hear things that will let you form opinions about the word (e.g. “you lousy detectives”).
This way, you won’t only learn what each word means, you will also know how it’s used.
- You hear how things are said. In English, people often say that only 7% of our communication is expressed through our words. So what about the other 93%?
Well, it’s all about how you say it. You know, things like your body language, your expressions (like a smile, a frown) and your tone of voice (like when you sound angry, or when you sound sad). As you can guess, the how is often more important than the what to English people.
Let me give you an example.
I’m sure that one of the first phrases you wanted to learn in English was “I love you.” But did you imagine that depending how you say it out loud, it can be very different?
“I love you” — You might hear this after two people (especially lovers) fight! One person may be trying to say to the other person “I really love you… why don’t you believe me!?”
“I love you” — A person might really want to say “I love you (and not anyone else…don’t worry!)”
“I… LOVE… YOU” — This might be a person saying “I love you” in a very loud voice… while trying to really confess their love!
“I LOVE YOU!!” — The person might be saying “I love you”… while they’re really angry!
If you hear these phrases out loud, they will make perfect sense to you!
Through observing actors in films, not only will you be able to learn new words, you will be able to understand how they are said. The characters might be sad, happy, surprised or angry. And you’ll understand this immediately.
You can see all of these learning benefits in action by checking out the following video, which breaks down a scene from the famous 1999 comedy film “Office Space.”
Notice how the movie scene helps you learn useful English words in context!
Practice Tips to Really Learn English with Movies
- Choose an interesting movie. This probably sounds obvious, but if you choose a boring movie, you’ll be bored. And if you’re bored, it will be difficult to pay attention for more than one and a half hours!
I remember when I was a child, I had to watch hours and hours of really old movies like “Singing in the Rain,” “Mary Poppins” to learn English. If you don’t know these films—you’re welcome to check them out—they’re really old! I didn’t exactly hate them, but I didn’t feel excited at all when watching these films.
And because of that, I highly recommend you choose movies you like. To do this, you can go to a website called Rotten Tomatoes, which is a website with many great critics and reviews on many tens of thousands of movies. It’s the perfect way to learn English through movies you love and know will be great.
- Select a movie that matches your current English level. For example, for beginners in English, I usually recommend you learn English through animations. The main reason is because the English is usually very friendly, nice and easy to understand.
On the other hand, if you try to watch something like “Romeo and Juliet,” you will be very confused. Shakespearian English (which is English used many centuries ago) is very difficult to understand on screen, even for advanced English learners.
- Bring your dictionary. Maybe I’ll add point 3.5, too: choose a film with subtitles! So when you hear a word you’re interested in, check it up! Because you went through the trouble to understand it… you’ll be able to remember that word for a long time too!
- Repeat short phrases! Some times, you might hear something cool in the movie. For example, some short phrases, or slang like, “hell yeah!” or “sure thing” or “you betcha!” that are commonly used in English. If you like how it sounds, it really helps to repeat it! After saying it out loud a while, you will be able to remember it for a longer time! It’s a great and enjoyable exercise—one of my personal favorites.
- Watch with and without subtitles. I know it can be really challenging to watch a film in a foreign language without subtitles. So here’s my recommendation. When you watch a film the first time, just turn on subtitles. But if you get the chance to watch it a second time, try turning off subtitles.
This way, you already know the story from the first time you watched it. And this time, you can try listening to some individual words that you might have checked up last time. Or you might try to see how much you can understand the film without subtitles.
- Use VLC player. This is actually a video player I recommend for watching films on your computer. This is one of my favorite tools. Most people use it just to watch movies, but I use it a little differently. (And if you don’t have it, you can download VLC player, it’s free.)
Here’s what I do: if you download a movie online, and you play it, you know how you don’t understand English sometimes? VLC Player allows you to play back movies at half speed or quarter speed. So if there are parts you don’t understand, you can play these back at a slower speed and try again! It’s very helpful to practice your listening.
- It’s okay to miss words… just let it go. Last of all, remember what we said in the start? Watching movies should be fun… so if you miss a word, a phrase, or even many sentences, that’s okay! Just follow along the subtitles and learn that way. Don’t make yourself feel bad… watching films is supposed to be fun!
Want a Better Way to Learn English with Movies and Films?
I’ll admit it: while learning English can be fun, there are a few disadvantages too. Here’s a few problems you may run into when learning English through movies:
- There are no subtitles. This is pretty rare nowadays. But if you watch a film without subtitles, it can be difficult to understand what’s going on.
- You have to keep on pausing and playing to understand. It can take you many times to understand something said on screen, because sometimes, the film might be easy. But at other times, it might be hard to understand. (As an example, characters who play “professors” in films can be difficult to understand. They use some difficult words, which you may have never heard of before.)
- You have to keep on checking up words. For every word you don’t know, you might want to look it up in the dictionary. While it’s a lot faster to check up words nowadays on our phones, it can be annoying to keep pausing and checking up words.
- You can’t remember these words afterwards. It can be difficult to keep track of what you’ve learned, because it takes time and effort to take notes, and we want to have an enjoyable experience in watching the movie, without having to be interrupted every minute to write down a word!
- You don’t know if you remember these words after. After a week, or a month, or even three months, you might forget what you’ve learned! And because you didn’t jot down notes, you can’t really test yourself either.
If this sounds like a lot of work, and you are open to watching other fun videos, you should try FluentU. FluentU has a collection of the web’s best videos for learning English, including movie trailers, music videos and TV shows. All videos come with subtitles, definitions and example sentences.
FluentU is perfect for learning from difficult videos like movie trailers. FluentU has great videos for learning English in one convenient place. It also provides a video player designed for learning English. When you review vocab, you do it with video clips. And FluentU remembers your progress and uses it to recommend videos to you.
Learn English with Movies and Film: The Popcorn-ready Guide from “Finding Nemo” to “Terminator”
“Finding Nemo” is an animated English film about a clownfish called Marlin who loses his son Nemo. It’s a very popular choice for learning English through movies.
On the way, he meets another fish called Dory. Together, they set out on an amazing adventure to find Nemo across the huge ocean! I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but it’s a great film to watch for all audiences—one of the best animated films of all time!
“The Terminator” series is a story about a war between artificially intelligent (AI) machines and humans that is going on in the future. When the humans start to win the war, these AI machines send killer machines back to the past.
Their goal is to try and kill the leader of the human resistance, John Connor and his family. It’s a thrilling science fiction film that’s truly one of a kind in this genre.
“Titanic” is one of the most celebrated films in the entire history of filmmaking. Based on a real life story, it retells a love story between Rose DeWitt Bukater (the daughter of a wealthy family) and Jack Dawson (a poor artist who sneaks onto the ship).
It also has some very exciting scenes showing the events on board the RMS Titanic before it sank (one of the grandest passenger liners at that time).
Titanic is also home to the famous song “My Heart Will Go On” by Céline Dion, which you might have heard of. A great all-time classic, and a masterpiece of great technical complexity! You’ll hear it in the movie trailer below.
Practically every English speaker on Earth has seen this film—and knows this song—so you’re getting a great cultural lesson if you watch “Titanic” when you learn English through movies.
If you like magic, you’ll definitely want to learn English with movies from the “Harry Potter” series. These beloved English movies will take you through the mysteries of Hogwarts and the wizarding world.
It’s a seven-part book series (and eight-part film series) about the battle between good and the bad wizards.
The story centers around the main characters Harry Potter and the evil Lord Voldemort. After you watch this, magic will never be the same again.
5. “Star Wars”
“Star Wars” is another epic film series, but it’s rather strange—the series wasn’t filmed in order. If you want to watch it from the beginning of the story to end, follow the list in this article.
Overall, this story follows the end of a long battle between two opposite forces of the universe—the Jedi Order and the Sith Lords.
In the Star Wars series, it is believed that there is a “Force” that holds together the universe. While the Jedi Order believe in compassion and kindness in using this “Force,” the Sith Lords believe in using the Force through hate, anger, jealousy and other negative feelings.
In this thousand-year battle between these two sides, the Jedi knights and the Sith Lords clash in a thrilling sequence throughout the six movies. There are no other movies like Star Wars… definitely a great set of movies to learn English with!
“Lord of the Rings” is another one of the greatest film series in the magic category. Set in the lands of the Middle Earth, there are three primary races—dwarves, humans, elves as well as other races such as Hobbits, orcs and werewolves.
The series follows the dark plot of a rebellion led by Sauron, the most evil being across all lands at that time. To oppose this evil, a small group of fighters take on a brave mission—to destroy a ring that is said to hold the powers of Sauron himself, which would mean the fall of Sauron with its destruction.
“Pirates of the Caribbean” is a film series about… pirates! Each film follows the adventures of Jack Sparrow, captain of the Black Pearl (the name of Jack’s ship), and it starts off in the first film following Jack’s attempts to get his ship back, which was stolen from him.
In the next films, Jack goes on to find the Dead Man’s Chest, which contains the heart of Captain Davy Jones, someone he owes a favor to. Finally, Jack is forced to looks for the Fountain of Youth, which is a magical fountain which promises the drinker eternal youth.
Never has there been a film where you can have so much fun with pirates.
These are probably better movies to learn English when you’ve reached the intermediate or advanced stage. Some of the accents and slang can be difficult to understand.
And here we have it, our top seven recommendations for movies to learn English!
These are some of the most celebrated films in the history of film, so I hope you enjoy watching them!
As you can see, we are super excited about learning English through movies and other video resources. With this, I hope I have convinced you that you can learn English with movies—and have fun while doing it!
And One More Tip to Learn English with Movies…
If you like learning English with videos, then try out the FluentU app. Like the website, the FluentU app lets you learn with cartoons, news programs, music videos, movies, funny YouTube videos and much, much more:
Use FluentU to listen to native English speakers. You will hear how they use their language in different ways. You will get a better understanding of how English is spoken in the real world outside your classroom and textbooks. Hey, why learn English with textbooks when you can let Hugh Jackman teach you?
It is hard to understand native English speakers, right? We have made this easier with subtitles. But that’s not all we have done! While you watch your English videos, you can see the definition for every word that you hear.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.