20 Short Movies for Learning English, from Comedy to Drama
We all love movies, but we don’t always have enough time to watch them!
Learning English with short movies might be the perfect solution.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines short films as motion pictures, or movies, that are 40 minutes long or less.
This post is all about short movies and how you can use them to improve your English skills.
So grab your popcorn and let’s get started!
- How to Learn English with Short Movies
- 20 Short Movies for English Learners
- 1. “Welcome to My Life”
- 2. “The Fancy Gentleman”
- 3. “Otherhalf”
- 4. “Hot Seat”
- 5. “Snake Bite”
- 6. “Text Me”
- 7. “Nadia”
- 8. “Two Dosas”
- 9. “The Meltdown”
- 10. “A Reasonable Request”
- 11. “The iMom”
- 12. “How Was Your Day?”
- 13. “A Conversation with My Black Son”
- 14. “How I Faked Being American”
- 15. “Sally Ride on Dumb Questions”
- 16. “The LEGO Story”
- 17. “Dotty”
- 18. “The Fear of Flying”
- 19. “Blind Vaysha”
- 20. “Zero”
- More Resources for Short Movies
How to Learn English with Short Movies
Just like normal, longer movies, there are many different types of short movies. Here are some tips for how to get the most out of them:
- Focus on vocabulary and try to guess the meaning of the words through context. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything as you watch. You can always pause the film to get a dictionary and look up the words to confirm their meaning (or ask a teacher if you have one).
- Watch movies with a language partner. Two heads are better than one, as they say, and that’s true here also. If you watch the movies with someone else, you can work together to identify the vocabulary words and discuss the questions together.
- Leave comments under the video on YouTube or Vimeo. This is another way to discuss the content of these videos! Alternatively, you can find a blog that discusses the short movie, talk about it in your English class or bring it up with your English-speaking friends.
Short films are great for picking up many new vocabulary words and phrases in a short amount of time. You can learn a lot through trailers, too!
Check out this video, which uses a movie trailer from a film featuring actor Benedict Cumberbatch to help you learn English:
20 Short Movies for English Learners
1. “Welcome to My Life”
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
This is a story about Douglas, a teenage monster in high school who is trying to fit in and is similar to many American teens.
Douglas has parents who care about him a lot. He plays football and even has a rap name, “T-kash.” He is also bullied, particularly because he looks different from the other students.
This short film is a simple way to learn basic school vocabulary. The voice acting is also very natural. It gives you a good idea of how informal conversations and interviews might sound in American English.
2. “The Fancy Gentleman”
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
“Classy” is a word used to describe a person who acts and speaks in a stylish or sophisticated way. In the US, the accent, manners and fashion of rich Europeans are often associated with being classy.
In this film, you can clearly observe how the standard, casual American accent is seen as the opposite of being classy. Notice how Mickey Mouse behaves and dresses differently before and after he is trained to be classy.
This film brilliantly shows how the language and the way of conversing are often viewed differently between the lower and the upper classes of the same society.
“My other half” is a term you can use for a person who is in a romantic relationship with you. In this short film, you can see how the story plays with this English expression by using it literally.
In the film, the lower half of a person breaks up with the rest of the body and just walks away. Eventually, the two halves realize that they need each other to stay happy.
This film shows snippets of conversations from different situations. In the beginning, we see both parts of the body in a therapy session. It also involves scenes in a bar where the lower half of the body goes on a date.
4. “Hot Seat”
This is a coming-of-age story about a birthday party where a shy girl, Andrea, uses a male stripper to gain popularity. (Strippers are people who entertain others by taking their clothes off.)
This film shows emotional interactions where the characters explore their friendships. You will also learn a lot about the social vocabulary of American teens and what is and isn’t acceptable in these social circles.
Be aware that this film has some explicit and non-consensual sexual content. Avoid this one if that kind of a content is a trigger for you, or simply not your cup of tea.
5. “Snake Bite”
This films also deals with friendship and morality, but in a more horrific way. Dylan, Tyler, Cole and Xavier hike in the forest, looking for snakes. When a large snake bites Dylan and slithers away, the group has a tough decision to make.
If the snake is not poisonous, they can just take Dylan back to the adults. If it is poisonous, they will need to cut off his leg or he will die within minutes.
The film is great for observing an English conversation between preteens. Pay attention to how the pitch, pace and length of sentences change as the situation becomes dangerous in the middle of the film.
6. “Text Me”
This is a sweet short film about a date between two teenagers. As the name suggests, the movie involves conversations through both text and speech, and the differences between these two types of communication.
The date between the teens starts out inappropriately. The girl is especially put off by the boy’s behavior. But then, as the conversation moves forward, she discovers that he is actually sweet.
You will also see how strangers get to know each other. The film focuses a lot on what is considered rude and polite according to American society, including how one is supposed to order food and interact with restaurant staff.
“Nadia” deals with the sensitive issue of homelessness among young people. The film starts with a classroom scene where the main character, Nadia, talks to the teacher in an extremely rude way.
As the plot progresses, we discover that she has major problems with her family. After a big fight with her mother, she decides to leave home. The teacher who was insulted by her is the one who comes out and helps her.
Apart from the conversations in the classroom and the family, the film really focuses on the social issue of homelessness in the English-speaking world.
8. “Two Dosas”
This video is about Pavan, a British citizen from an Indian family, as he talks about a date to his colleagues. He had hoped to impress his date, Chloe, by taking her to an Indian restaurant, but she turns out to be more knowledgeable about Indian culture than him.
What is interesting in this film is that you get to learn about the culture of native English speakers from Pavan rather than Chloe. When Chloe starts talking in Hindi with the waiter, it is Pavan who is unable to understand a single word.
This film is great for learning British English. It can also helps you understand Indian culture in Britain, as well as the general culture of native English speakers. The conversations revolve around sharing cultural identity.
9. “The Meltdown”
“The Meltdown” is a short film in a reality TV show format. This means that half is filled with interviews about things that happened, and the other half shows the events actually taking place.
This story is about a rude and careless scientist in a nuclear power plant. Due to a silly mistake he makes, the whole power plant has a meltdown (a nuclear accident). However, he ends up doing something so unexpected that we are forced to see him in a more positive light.
The characters speak in casual American English. Since they’re all scientists, the film is also good for learning general scientific vocabulary.
10. “A Reasonable Request”
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
A son meets his father after a long time and makes a horrific request. Since most of the point is in the suspense (uncertainty), it’s better if you just watch this film instead of us telling you about it.
For English learners, this film is a great tool for observing uncomfortable conversations between family members.
11. “The iMom”
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Genre: Science Fiction
“iMom” is about a robot who is supposed to take the place of parents. It is sold as a magic solution for parents, who will not even have to check if their kids are okay.
Eventually, iMom does something shocking that will send a chill down your spine. (“To send a chill down [someone’s] spine” is a common expression used to describe the physical feeling of being scared.)
The film has various kinds of interactions between characters, including phone conversations. Learners should focus on the dialogue and notice all the human communication that the robot is not able to understand.
12. “How Was Your Day?”
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
This film aims to show the broken side of parenthood. It is a story about a mother who is not happy with her child. Her baby is born with a problem and cannot act like all the other kids.
In a few minutes, we see this mother go through a journey that completely breaks her. Since she cannot talk about this to anyone, she directs all her hate toward her child. No viewer will be able to forget this short film after watching its ending.
This film is great for learning Irish accents. There are many intimate scenes such as baby showers, conversations between couples and phone conversations with friends.
13. “A Conversation with My Black Son”
Racism and police brutality are major topics of discussion in the US today. In this short movie, parents of black sons describe how they prepare their kids for encounters with the police.
This short film showcases some powerful perspectives on this issue without beating around the bush. (“Beating around the bush” is an idiom that means to talk about something indirectly, or to avoid discussing unpleasant things.)
It’s a good way to learn vocabulary related to social justice issues and serious social topics. Each person interviewed also has a different style of speaking, which is good practice for listening comprehension.
14. “How I Faked Being American”
Jack Barsky was a German spy for the Soviet Union. In this short documentary, he talks about how he trained himself to not only speak like an American but also dress, behave and eat like one.
In the film, he talks about the differences between the German and American way of acting. He even talks about differences in drinks and the way you open them.
This film is not only educational for English learners but also inspirational. Even though Jack was a spy who was expected to be intelligent and cunning (clever), he took a lot of time to learn the basics of American English.
15. “Sally Ride on Dumb Questions”
Sally Ride was the first American woman to reach space. This was almost 20 years after the first woman was sent to space from the Soviet Union. This short documentary was made using a recording from 1983.
In this interview, she discusses the challenges of being an astronaut in general. But she also talks about silly things journalists and other people often ask her because she is a woman.
Learners can get a sense of the history of American science, culture and society from this interview. Sally talks about the school system, NASA (the American space association) and journalism.
16. “The LEGO Story”
This movie tells the story of everyone’s favorite building blocks and how the company got started making LEGO toys. It starts from the company’s early beginnings and goes up until the success it has today.
Ole Kirk Kristiansen, the founder of LEGO, went through many difficulties, like the closing down of his carpentry business, the death of his wife, early wooden toys that didn’t sell, and a lot more before the company became successful.
The characters speak slowly and clearly, although there might be a few difficult new words here and there. Also, as you would expect, there’s lots of talk about the business of toys and toymaking.
This short film is about a younger woman who helps an elderly woman with her mobile phone. It’s a nice picture of how technology affects people and relationships across generations.
Dotty, the older woman, is staying in a home for elderly people, and wants to send a message to her daughter by text. The younger woman patiently helps her and there is a twist at the end that might or might not be a surprise.
You can pay attention to how the younger woman gives instructions to the older woman. It’s also helpful for getting used to different accents, as the actors are from New Zealand.
18. “The Fear of Flying”
“The Fear of Flying” is an animated film about Dougal, a bird who’s afraid of flying. It’s about facing fears and overcoming them in unusual ways.
Winter is fast approaching and the animals are preparing for it. The other birds are heading south, but Dougal doesn’t have any plans to leave at first. Eventually, he finds several good reasons to leave as well.
There isn’t as much conversation in this one and the voiceover actors speak with an Irish accent. That said, it’s easy to understand what is going on just with the visuals.
19. “Blind Vaysha”
“Blind Vaysha” is a 2017 Oscar-nominated short movie about a special young girl. It’s an animated movie, with original paintings from the director, about how her village reacts and how she lives with her eyes.
Vaysha is born with one eye that only sees the past and another that only sees the future. She can’t see the present, so it’s like she’s blind. The narrator asks some questions at the end about how we view the past and future.
The vocabulary is quite advanced, especially since much of it relates to magic, society and other harder topics. This one might need multiple viewings.
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
The film “Zero” is about a world where people are judged by the number they have on their chest. It’s a metaphor for the value we think different people have in society.
Zero lives a lonely life as a person with the number “zero,” but he soon meets another “zero,” and learns how can he change his life. Although it’s a rather sad film, there is a touching ending.
Like the last short film, this one asks some big questions, so it’s a bit more challenging. The animation definitely helps with understanding the story.
More Resources for Short Movies
If you’re interested in watching more short movies—or just like movies in general—here are some resources to help you find more of them.
Many of the links on the sites below only let you see trailers or short clips of the movies, but they can point you in the right direction and give you ideas for new movies to check out.
Short of the Week
Short of the Week is a website that highlights recent short movies from independent filmmakers. As the name indicates, there’s a new short movie posted to the website every week.
If you’re really interested in shorts, this is a great resource to follow to keep up with the industry.
FluentU is an incredible study tool for English students who love movies, as it’s specifically made for language learners. It uses authentic content like movie clips, short films, commercials, music videos and more.
Plus, there are built-in tools to help you learn, such as interactive subtitles, flashcards and personalized quizzes. You can even watch the clips on the iOS or Android app if you prefer learning on the go.
Pixar is famous for including their short movies at the beginning of their more well-known, full-length feature films. Many of their longer movies started as shorts.
Pixar is quite proud of the short movies they make, so they’ve given the public a place to find out more information and view some of them. They’re fun to watch and often have characters you might already know from their full-length movies.
Oscar-Nominated Short Movies
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences highlights their favorite short movies every year during their annual awards show (famously called “The Oscars”).
These shorts are praised for their innovation, and they demonstrate how short movies can be used in new and exciting ways to make art.
Short movies are an entertaining way to take a break from your normal English learning routine. They can also present you with new ideas and are a great choice for shadowing English.
They might even teach you more than you had expected, if you keep your mind open to the possibilities!