Do you like movies?
Who doesn’t, right?
Well, here’s a hack for you. (A “hack” is a “trick” or “shortcut”).
How about learning English with movies and films?
Why Learn English with Movies and Films?
Watching movies in English is an awesome way of improving your English – especially your English speaking and listening skills.
If you’re tired of books and learning difficult grammar and vocabulary, then take a break and watch some classic Hollywood movies. And of course, improve your English at the same time.
To seamlessly combine movies and learning English, check out our FluentU English YouTube channel where you’ll find videos like these two:
And if you’re still early on in your English language journey, you’ll enjoy videos like the one below, which recommends Disney films you should watch to enhance your English skills. Feel free to subscribe to the FluentU YouTube channel for more English learning tips, vocabulary, grammar and more!
- So, if your teachers, friends or family members ask why you’re watching so many movies instead of reading over your notes you can simply tell them: Movies aren’t usually made for English language learners like yourself. Instead they are made for English speakers. So everything you hear is exactly how it is in reality. It’s fast paced, with realistic native accents.
- Movies use natural language. So they are a great way to improve your English vocabulary by learning English idioms and common American English slang. There’s no better way to learn the everyday language that you can’t learn in a traditional classroom.
- Movies are fun. Watching a movie is a great way to jump into English when you’re too tired to do anything else (like reading).
- Watching movies in English will also give you cultural insight. You’ll be able to learn more about places you are interested in. If you go there, you’ll not only know English, but also understand the culture and history.
- If you want something to talk about with your English friends – movies is a great topic. Everyone likes to talk about movies.
- By listening to the dialogue, you’ll be able to listen to and perfect your English pronunciation…
…so what are you waiting for? Grab your popcorn and your friends and kick back and enjoy an English lesson. (“Kick back” means to lay back and enjoy.)
Tips to Learn English Through Movies and Films
- Choose movies you already know. If you’re a beginner or a lower level, it’s best to choose a movie that you’ve already watched before. Why? It’s simple because you already know the plot (the main story). This time, you can focus on the language itself instead of trying to follow a new story.
- Use subtitles. Just because you’re using subtitles, it doesn’t mean that you’re cheating because you’re still hearing English audio. If you’re of a lower level, use subtitles in your own language until you feel more comfortable watching the movie without them. If you’re of a more advanced level, challenge yourself a little bit and step out of your comfort zone and watch a movie with English subtitles. You don’t have to follow with them word for word as this can be quite tiring, instead just use them to get the gist (the idea) of something if the speech becomes too fast or the language is too colloquial (casual language) that you can’t understand what the characters are saying.
- Start small. Don’t know if you can handle watching an epic all the way through in English and understand it? Don’t watch it! Choose movie that is relatively short and avoid any movie that involves a deeper level of understanding of history or culture as its likely going to consume your thoughts and you won’t be able to focus on the language as much.
- Break it up. If you find watching the movie in English tiring, break it up a little. Watch the movie in 30 minute parts. After you’ve watched one part, do something else. Grab a drink, eat something, check your inbox, whatever, it doesn’t matter as long as you can remain focused during the parts. Watching a full movie in only English can be really overwhelming and also frustrating especially if you’re straining yourself to understand, which is why it’s a good idea to watch it in smaller parts.
- Listen and repeat. The beauty of watching a recorded movie online or on a DVD is that you’re able to pause and go back if you don’t understand – something you can’t do with your English teachers in the classroom. Go back to a part you didn’t understand and say it out loud. Repeat it a few times and read what the subtitles say. Verbally repeating something you hear is a great way of perfecting a natural sounding accent, this is something which is a little bit more difficult in a language classroom as it leaves us feeling silly sometimes – in your own bedroom there’s no need for shame, repeat as much as you like until you get it right!
- Watch movies you enjoy. Don’t like drama? Don’t watch them! Don’t like lovey dovey romance? Don’t watch them! There are literally thousands and thousands of movies out there and there’s something for everyone’s taste. Choose movies with the genre (kind of movie e.g. romance, horror) that you prefer as you’re more likely to take something away from it and learn. If you force yourself to watch movies that aren’t the slightest bit interesting to you in terms of story, you’re going to struggle and you may as well head back to your English language lessons if that’s the case.
- Focus on movies from one country. As you know English is spoken throughout the world in different countries but when you’re trying to learn English it’s better to stick to one area as the language tends to vary as does the accent. Choose the country which interests you most and start with these movies (until you become more confident at least). Most ESL learners prefer to learn English from American movies because they’re more familiar with the culture and the accents tend to be easier to understand compared to other English speaking countries.
- Watch them with friends. Do you have some buddies who also want to perfect their English skills? Pair up and catch a movie together. Not only are you getting to hang out with your friends, but you’ll also be able to fill each other in on different parts you don’t understand. Want to take it a little further? Grab a coffee after the movie and discuss your opinions and favorite parts of the movie (all in English of course).
- Keep a movie journal. Heard a phrase or word you loved? Want to be able to use in the future? Write it down! While you watch your movies, pause the video when you hear something that you might find useful in the future and write it down in a journal. This way you’re collecting ‘authentic’ real-life phrases that you can practice and use on your English speaking friends in the future (as long as they’re not offensive of course).
- The easiest and most effective way: FluentU. If keeping a movie journal and looking up words in your dictionary 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. Below are a couple of must-watch movies to help you become more fluent in English…and not to mention a movie buff (movie expert) too!
9 Modern American Classics for Learning English with Movies
1. “The Social Network” (2010)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield.
Story: Want to know the history behind the invention of Facebook? This story tells the story of the young Mark Zuckerberg, a geeky Harvard student, who wants to revolutionize the way we communicate with other people. The story shows how Zuckerberg accidentally finds fame and becomes a multi-millionaire – but there is a price.
Many of his old friends and people he’s connected with over the years want him to fail. Mark Zuckerberg shows us he’s got everything in terms of material things but very little in terms of friends. Mark Zuckerberg finds himself in court a number of times and the movie questions whether it was really Mark Zuckerberg or not who first created the world’s largest social network, Facebook.
Why it’s a great movie for learning English: This is an award winning movie written by Aaron Sorkin. He’s famous for his natural dialogue and funny lines, which makes this movie really enjoyable to watch and of course it’s easy to follow too. Also, almost everyone understands and knows Facebook and you will automatically be able to relate to the movie and not to mention, you’ll also be able to pick up a lot of great English vocabulary related to computers, technology and social networks.
Favorite quote: “I invented Facebook!”
2. “The Hangover” (2009)
Starring: Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifiankis.
Story: Four male friends go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party a couple of days before their friend’s wedding. It follows their wild adventures and how they find themselves in a lot of trouble. They find themselves in so much trouble, it’s unsure whether they are going to make it back in time for the wedding or not.
Why it’s a great movie for learning English: First of all it’s hilarious (really funny) and it keeps us interested throughout the movie. Because it’s a comedy and we rely a lot on the visuals to understand, it makes it a lot easier to understand the dialogue between the characters.
All of the characters in “The Hangover” use everyday English, which makes this movie an awesome way of learning modern American slang which will help you fit into everyday life if you’re planning on moving to the United States. You’ll hear common phrases such as “stag party” (bachelor party) and “all-nighter” (staying up all night without sleep).
Favorite quote: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
3. “The Hunger Games” (2012)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth.
Story: This story is set in the future and set in a futuristic nation called Panem. Every year there are two people who are chosen to represent their district in the Hunger Games fight. Those who are chosen are done so by a lottery system. This follows the story of Katniss, a 16-year-old girl, from District 12. It shows her intense training and then how she is suddenly thrown into the fight to represent her area in the 74th annual hunger games.
Why it’s a great movie for learning English: This is a very visual movie and what you miss in the dialogue, you’ll be able to be filled in by the visual action. While the actions are fast, the language is relatively easy to understand unlike other sci-fi and futuristic movies which use complex terms.
The accent is a clean North American one so you’ll have no problem understand what the characters say. The characters don’t speak too fast and it’s fairly easy to understand what’s going on. It’s also an action-filled movie and has an interesting plot, which makes it even better. This movie has something for everyone as it cleverly includes action, romance, comedy and the future all in one movie.
Favorite quote: “Here’s some advice, stay alive!”
4. “Toy Story” (1995)
Starring: Tim Allen and Tom Hanks.
Story: This is an animated (cartoon) movie that follows a young boy called Andy. Andy loves playing in his room with his toys. He especially loves to play with his action figure called Woody. When Andy disappears, the toys come to life. Andy’s mom gives him a new toy for his birthday which is called Buzz Lightyear, which becomes Andy’s new favorite toy to play with.
Woody feels hurt and is jealous of the attention Andy gives his new toy and as a result he tries to get rid of him. However, as the two toys begin to fight they get lost. This story follows their adventure and is full of action and a lot of laughs.
Why it’s a good movie to learn English: Animation movies such as “Toy Story” are usually written for and aimed at a younger audience which means the story and vocabulary used is not complicated. Even though the movie is mainly for kids, it doesn’t feel like it. The director made it attractive for adults too, by including a little bit of adult humor in it.
Favorite quote: “Woody to Buzz Lightyear: This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”
5. “Cast Away” (2000)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt and Chris North.
Story: This is an American adventure drama that follows Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), a systems analyst, who has to travel around the world fixing problems at Fedex centers. Chuck is called up at Christmas time to go to Malaysia on business and is forced to leave his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) behind.
His plane hits a terrible storm and it crashes somewhere into the Pacific Ocean. Chuck manages to escape the crashed plane and holds on to a life raft in the cold sea. Eventually he washes up onto a deserted island the next day. The story follows Chuck and his survival on the island and focuses on a ball he calls Wilson.
Every day Chuck talks with the ball (Wilson) to fight his loneliness. Four years later Chuck is still on the island and is fishing off a man-made raft he made with Wilson. Wilson falls into the sea and cannot be rescued leaving Chuck feeling lonely and lost again until he’s rescued by a passing cargo ship. Chuck is taken back home, however, four years later everything has changed and it’s no longer the life he once knew.
Why this is a great movie for learning English: Most of the dialogue in this movie is a monologue (one person speaking). There are no complicated relationships or turnovers between different characters which makes this movie very easy to follow. Tom Hanks is also known for his clear and slow voice, which is perfect for any English learner to understand.
Favorite quote: Chuck (Hanks) to Wilson (the ball): “Don’t worry Wilson. I’ll do the paddling. You just hang on.”
6. “(500) Days of Summer” (2009)
Starring: Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Story: This is not your typical love story. On January 8, a young architect called Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). He almost falls in love with her right away, and over the next few months they spend a lot of time together. Then hang out a lot even though Summer tells him she doesn’t believe in love.
Despite how much time they spend together, Summer doesn’t feel the same about Tom. This story shows how Tom loves Summer but she doesn’t feel the same. A couple of years later they meet again and she explains that he was right about the idea of love and that she has met someone.
Why this is a great movie to learn English: The English is very simple to understand it’s a narrative from one person’s perspective so it’s easy to follow. It’s not your typical love story and it catches the audience’s interest from the beginning.
Favorite quote: Tom: “Either she’s an evil, emotionless miserable human being, or…she’s a robot.”
7. “Twilight” (2008)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.
Story: Bella Swan, a teenager, has always been different from other teenagers. She never cared about being a part of the cool group of girls. When her mom remarries, Bella chooses to live with her dad in a small town in Washington. It’s a boring rainy town and nothing interesting ever happens until she meets a mysterious and very good-looking guy called Edward Cullen.
Edward is like no other guy she’s ever met–he’s handsome, intelligent and witty. He’s different because he’s a vampire and hasn’t aged since 1918. Bella and Edward fall in love and it’s like a modern day story of Romeo and Juliet and forbidden love.
Why this is a great movie for learning English: This movie is aimed at teenage and young adult audiences and uses everyday English. The language is typically American and the accents of the characters are clear and easy to understand. This movie is based on author Stephanie Myer’s series and if you’ve already read the popular series in your own language then you’re going to understand the movie plot even more.
Favorite quotes: Edward to Bella: “You’re my life now.”
8. “The Break-up” (2006)
Starring: Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn.
Story: Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) meet at a Chicago Cubs game. They’re attracted to each other immediately and Brooke loves Gary’s humor. They begin dating and soon buy a condo together. Gary is a bus tour operator and Brooke manages an art gallery. Their backgrounds are very different, and after living together they find out that they have different interests.
They decide to break up, but they can’t agree on what to do with their condo. They decide to live together as roommates. Gary goes back to living like a single guy, throwing parties and inviting women around to the home. This breaks Brooke’s heart (makes her sad) even more. Brooke decides to quit her job and travel around Europe. On her return, Gary understands the mistakes he’s made and tries to win back her heart. This is a story full of laughs which the whole audience will enjoy.
Why this movie is great to learn English: This movie is full of everyday slang language which is used in many social situations. You’ll learn language related to communicating with a partner and also some common lines used in an argument. It’s a funny movie that is easy to understand and the humor that’s used is simple and clear which will allow even non-native English speakers to understand the inside jokes.
Favorite quote: Gary to Brooke: “Is that how you want to play it Brooke? Because I can play it like that. I can play it like Lionel Richie, all night long.”
9. Forrest Gump (1994)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise and Sally Field.
Story: Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is waiting at a bus stop where he begins telling his past story to some strangers waiting for the bus. His sad story begins with him as a child when he had a problem with his legs and had to wear braces. He suffered a lot from other kids bullying (making fun of him) him.
Finally he meets Jenny as a young girl (Robin Wright). He falls in love with Jenny and they become the best of friends. One day while he’s running away from the kids bullying him, his leg brace breaks. He suddenly discovers he’s very fast at running, which wins him a scholarship to college (even though he’s not very smart).
After graduating from college he signs up for the war and heads to Vietnam to fight. There he saves many friends’ lives and he’s awarded a medal of bravery. At the same time Jenny is having problems back home. She has become a drug addict and is very sick. When Forrest returns he meets Jenny again and asks her to marry him, but she says no. Forrest is so upset he goes for a run. His run turns into a marathon and lasts three years.
Why this is a great movie to learn English: This is a perfect movie to learn English as the speech is slow due to Forrest Gump’s mental problems. The language is simple and uncomplicated and it’s really easy to follow. It will also teach you some important parts of U.S. history and culture.
You’ll learn about the United States’s involvement in the Vietnam War and the popular hippy movement in the ’60s. This is a favorite movie among many people around the world and if you ever get into a conversation where you’re discussing movies, this is a great one to talk about as almost everyone has seen it.
Favorite quote: Forrest Gump to a stranger at the bus stop: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”
These are just a few of many great movies to watch to help you learn English. So, now you don’t need an excuse to watch a movie or two – you want to perfect your English even more! Get comfortable, make some popcorn and begin a movie marathon to learn real life English. And if you liked this post, you might also like our post about learning English through songs and music!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you like learning English through movies, you should also check out the FluentU app. Like the website, the FluentU app lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word “brought,” you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.