Ready for a guilt-free binge-watching session?
It’s time to turn Netflix into your favorite new French learning tool.
We’re calling this “Netflix and skill.” It’s a new trend. It’s a lot like your normal Netflix routine… except you’ve got to put on those French subtitles.
Watching Netflix with French subtitles is an awesome way to learn new vocabulary and see all those French grammar rules you’ve been learning in context. It’s also a totally engaging way to boost your reading comprehension skills, especially if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t love traditional book learning.
While Netflix doesn’t have an enormous selection of authentic French movies that come with subtitles, we’ll cover a handful of interesting ones later in this post. We’ll also show you what English-language films can be watched (and read!) in French for targeted language learning.
Grab the remote!
Can You Really Learn French by Watching Netflix?
Netflix isn’t necessarily renowned for its educational value. For most of us, Netflix is the perfect way to relax and let our minds wander. But watching movies and shows subtitled in French can have a number of benefits for language learners:
- You can watch what you want. Unlike learning with assignments or structured courses—though those are valuable in their own right—when we make a choice to watch something that we personally find intriguing or relatable, we’re typically more likely to stay focused from beginning to end.
- The visuals keep you engaged. Humans are visual beings. It’s easy for us to get immersed in the stories we see on Netflix—and in fact, research has shown that learning with visuals helps us remember information.
- You’ll diversify your vocabulary. You can explore all sorts of genres on Netflix that’ll expose you to a wide range of new vocabulary and speaking styles.
Plus, while a textbook does have some nice structure, it won’t teach you the same French slang and curse words that you’ll pick up from Netflix movies and series. You can’t find meuf (slang for femme, or girl/lady/chick) and ouf (slang for fou, or crazy) in textbooks. This is part of why it’s so fun (but also effective!) to learn a language through non-traditional resources like Netflix.
- French will become part of your daily life. When you opt to incorporate French into your daily activities (yes, you’re not the only one who watches Netflix every night before bed!), you’ll be making a habit of practicing the language and boosting your comprehension skills without adding any extra commitments to your schedule.
How Can French Subtitles Help You Learn French?
It’s science. Our brain works in amazing ways, and even if it doesn’t feel like you’re learning while watching these movies, you’ll be thinking more en français (in French) than you might realize. Here are some specific ways that turning on your Netflix subtitles will help you learn French:
- You’ll get better at recognizing common French words and phrases. Again, we’re visual learners, so seeing common words flash on the screen repeatedly but in different contexts will help drill them in. This is especially relevant for French learners, since it can be so difficult to distinguish words between all those liaisons and silent letters.
- You’ll practice understanding French using context clues. This is especially true if you’ve also got the French audio turned on (highly recommended!). Immersed in French sound and subtitles, you’ll have to listen and read closely to figure out what unfamiliar words mean in context. Don’t be afraid to pause and re-watch tricky scenes using this method—it’ll help the new words stick in your memory much better than if you just translate to your native language and keep going.
With the subtitles supporting your learning, this is like a training-wheels ride before conversing with native French speakers or navigating a French-only environment.
- It’s a pretty addictive way to learn. Let’s face it, we all love Netflix because it’s endlessly entertaining. Getting drawn into the story and feeling both your listening and reading comprehension skills grow isn’t just fun, it’s rewarding. Soon enough, you’ll be hungry for more subtitled French movies wherever you can find them!
Tips for Success When Learning with Subtitles
Watching with French subtitles and soaking it all up is one thing, but taking it a little more seriously can make all the difference in your progress with the French language. Be intentional about your learning:
- Select your theme. Try to pick movies and shows that’ll expose you to the types of language you need help with. Maybe the past tense is hard for you; choose a film with a story in the past that’s told from the present.
Maybe you want to expand your knowledge of action verbs; nature documentaries are a great option. Maybe you just want to build your knowledge of basic, everyday nouns and verbs; sitcoms and even cooking shows are good for those.
- Pace yourself. Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t max out your brain with a series chock-full of lightning-speed banter and sarcastic jokes. Different movies and series have different paces of spoken language. Documentaries are generally more about understanding the science or appreciating the imagery, and are typically narrated at an easy pace. Sitcoms are fast-paced and overflowing with idiosyncratic language.
- Rewind, replay, pause. Don’t be afraid to use commands available on Netflix. You’re not in a movie theater, so take advantage of the pause button to read a subtitle, or rewind a bit to catch a word you’d never heard before. We even do this in our native language sometimes, when we’ve missed an important detail. Listen to your gut when you feel inclined to replay, re-watch, re-read or re-listen.
- Keep a notebook handy. Or a note on your computer, phone, napkin, newspaper—anything! Writing things down has been shown to help students process and remember new information. The likelihood of you remembering—and using in context—a word or phrase that you’ve written down is much higher than if you hadn’t.
- Use FluentU. While it may be tricky to find (especially French) content that also has French subtitles on Netflix, this platform offers tons of authentic French videos.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Netflix and Skill: 12 Movies and Shows with French Subtitles for Learners
Grab the popcorn! All but two (noted below) of the English-language movies and shows in this list come with French audio on Netflix as well.
English Netflix Series Available for Learning French with Subtitles
For beginner-friendly subtitles:
“Ever After High”
Based in a school setting, this animated series features your classic high school drama with basic vocabulary surrounding daily activities. Geared more toward children, it’s a great way to learn foundational vocabulary.
Similarly, this series for kids is full of action and contains some quick-on-your-feet language tactics for conflict resolution. It’s great for beginners for the purpose of learning basic French vocabulary and action verbs!
For technical, action-based vocabulary:
“House of Cards”
This political drama series set in Washington D.C. is best suited for those looking to develop French skills for the political or business arenas. This series can get complicated in plot and in language used, especially amid power struggles and moral conflicts, so you may find yourself re-watching scenes to catch French subtitles you missed the first time—but the dramatic plot makes it worth it!
Set in the French city of Marseille, this is basically the French version of “House of Cards.” If you’re interested in learning more about French culture, politics and government, this is the series to watch.
It does get technical and move quickly, but you’ll find lots of idiosyncratic French expressions, facial expressions and gestures… which are equally useful for communicating in French!
“Orange Is the New Black”
Moving at a slightly quicker pace, and with lots of slang, this series is likely more suited for advanced French learners. The vocabulary can be very idiosyncratic, and the plot can sometimes be challenging to follow (even in English!). Nonetheless, it’s a great resource for picking up vocabulary for contemporary conversational French.
For lighter, sitcom-like humor:
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
This is the saga of a young woman living her life after being unearthed from a bunker in the ground where she and others had been kidnapped. Doesn’t sound like the plot to a comedy, but it is, due to Kimmy Schmidt’s “unbreakable” spirit and her crazy cast of friends. This show offers fairly easy vocabulary, but does have a quicker pace at times with lots of funny quips!
English Netflix Movies Available for Learning French with Subtitles
For classic, historically-based subject matter and to practice your tenses:
“To Kill a Mockingbird”
This classic film will help in understanding how to express emotions and also provides some foundational governmental/political vernacular that can be useful for discussing current events.
For theme-specific, paced language learning:
This documentary, named for its focus on the job of sommeliers (wine specialists), will certainly take you on a French adventure into wine country. This is a great documentary to watch to bulk up your dining/eating/tasting vocabulary with descriptive words… and some tasty new knowledge of French wines.
Note: no French audio for this movie on Netflix.
“Call Me Lucky”
This biographical documentary of Barry Crimmins’ life as a comedian and satirist who evolved into an activist is for mature audiences, both age-wise and in terms of French language knowledge. Although somewhat heavy, this documentary will help you understand how to explain and talk about deeply touching personal experiences, and you’ll certainly gain an understanding of the commonly used French phrase c’est grave/ce n’est pas grave (it’s serious/it’s no big deal) firsthand.
Note: no French audio for this movie on Netflix.
French Netflix Movies Available for Learning French with Subtitles
Feeling confident watching Netflix in English with French subtitles? There are many more French films (in spoken French) out there, so check out some of these wonderfully weird movies or these great movies for French learners that aren’t currently featured on Netflix with French subtitles.
For a worldly adventure in spoken French, you can add French subtitles to be sure to catch all the excitement in one of these films available on Netflix:
“Le Voyage au Groenland” (“Journey to Greenland”)
“Journey to Greenland” is about two Parisians who travel to a remote village while also navigating challenges in their relationship. This film offers a funny and insightful look at French customs and how to express an array of emotions in a strange place.
“Bienvenue à Marly-Gomont” (“The African Doctor”)
This poignant film offers insight into French village life and also breaches the subject of prejudice. It’s both touching and tender, and the small village and family setting makes the conversation and plot easy to follow.
“Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglement” (“Blind Date”)
This sensitive and cheeky romantic comedy is prime for learning how to go about adult life à la française (French style) and presents a great opportunity to learn how to relate to others and problem-solve in French. This film is better for moderately confident learners, and also has some slang and proper French humor in it.
Watching Netflix with French subtitles is basically like a pick-your-own-adventure lesson. Either way you spin it, having French subtitles on while you watch your favorite show makes it no-shame Netflix marathoning. With enough French-subtitled Netflix under your belt, your motivation to learn will take off and you’ll get to sit down and chomp popcorn while your skills improve.
Gretchen Kaija lives in Nice, France, where she enjoys exploring the Cote d’Azur with all of her senses.
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