learn a language by watching movies

The Complete Guide to Learning Any Language by Watching Movies

Did you know that learning a language through movies can be one of the most fun ways to enhance your skills?

In fact, movies let you learn languages for free.

Okay, it’s not as easy as just turning on your TV and absorbing the language, but with this guide, movies can become some of your favorite resources.

Here’s everything you need to know about learning a language through movies, from practical tips and techniques to top streaming platforms and even genre recommendations.  

Contents

Why Learn a Language by Watching Movies?

There are brilliant films in nearly any language you can think of, including ArabicChineseFrenchGermanItalianJapaneseKorean, PortugueseRussian and Spanish. Regardless of what language you want to learn, there’s probably a movie in that language that you’ll love.

Here’s why watching movies is well-loved among language learners: 

  • Watching movies familiarizes you with native speech. Sometimes, historical or fantasy films might not be accurate reflections of current speech norms, but most contemporary movies use common language that people who watch the film also use. 
  • Watching movies puts vocabulary in context. If you don’t understand a word, you can often guess based on what’s happening and visual cues, like characters’ facial expressions. Plus, you can see how vocabulary might be used in different situations.
  • Watching movies is addictive and fun. Once you get on a roll, you’ll just want to keep watching them. And when you’re watching in your target language, the addictive nature of movies can lead to massive improvements in your language skills.

However, a lot of language learners don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to learning a language with movies. It can be tempting to just watch a movie and hope to learn from it. But because so many learners are unprepared, they often don’t get as much out of the movies as they would have hoped.

Not to worry, we’re here to help!

16 Valuable Tips for Learning a Language Through Movies

1. Start small.

Full-length movies can be pretty long, and if you haven’t done so much listening practice in one stretch, they could be overwhelming. Luckily, you don’t have to go all or nothing. Starting small can be a great way to transition toward watching full-length movies down the road.

You can start by watching individual movie scenes or clips, or just start by watching movie trailers. Either option can give you a taste of what it’s like to watch a movie in your target language without throwing you in over your head.

Resources:

iTunes Trailers

You can watch hundreds of international movie trailers through iTunes. Trailers feature foreign audio along with English subtitles, making it easy to follow along. And because each trailer is just a couple minutes long, they aren’t intimidating!

The one issue is that you can’t always tell which language the trailer is in by looking at the title, so familiarizing yourself with well-known movie titles in your target language can make it easier to find appropriate viewing material.

FluentU

FluentU can supply you with shorter viewing options, but it also supports you with handy learning tools as you watch.

As a language learning program, it features bite-sized clips from native movies, TV series, and other videos, all with interactive subtitles. When you click on any word in the subtitles, you’ll see its definition and example sentences right away: 

learn a language by watching movies

There’s also a contextual video dictionary, plus flashcards and transcripts for each video. And you won’t just be watching the videos passively, either–for reviewing, you can take personalized quizzes that include speaking activities and audio snippets.

FluentU has a web app and mobile app (iOS or Android), with 10 languages available. 

2. Pick your movie carefully.

You don’t have to settle for the first movie you find in your target language! Instead, select your movie carefully to ensure it’s the right choice for you.

Pay attention to its level to make sure it works with your skill set. You can often assume the difficulty level based on the genre:

  • Most children’s movies are relatively easy.
  • Some action movies are also approachable since they frequently lean more on visuals than dialogue.
  • Serious, deep (the type that get the Oscars) are usually a little harder for to follow since they may lean more heavily on subtleties that can be hard to catch in a foreign language.

Consider too whether the vocabulary is worthwhile. For instance, a police procedural will probably include a lot of technical terms that you might not need to know in your target language. However, movies like romantic comedies usually feature more common vocabulary.

3. Read the movie summary ahead of time.

Once you’ve selected what movie you’ll watch, try to find a summary of the movie. Not only will this help you determine if the movie is the right choice for you, it will also familiarize you with the plot. If you already have an idea of what the movie is about, you’ll be able to focus more on the language and less on the story when you watch it.

Additionally, reading a summary ahead of time can give you an idea of what sort of vocabulary could be used in the film, giving you a chance to look up related words ahead of time.

You might also look up the actors ahead of time. Pay attention to the characters’ names as you look at images of the actors’ faces. This way, when you start watching the movie, you’re not wasting any time trying to remember who’s who.

Alternatively, you could pick a movie that you’ve watched before in English and practice with the dubbed version. A good movie series for this would be Harry Potter because it’s dubbed in a lot of languages:

Resources:

IMDb

IMDb has all kinds of movie summaries and reviews, so you’ll have no trouble finding information on the most popular foreign language films. While summaries are usually in English, they’ll give you the basic information you need to go into viewing with a firm grasp on what you’re about to see.

Films by Country

Who knew a Wikipedia page could help you enjoy foreign movies so much more? This category list can help you find the names of films from countries where your target language is spoken, which you can then use to locate these movies to watch.

But beyond that, Wikipedia often offers in-depth plot summaries that can help you understand all the ins and outs of the story before you even watch.

4. If you can find a script, use it.

Film scripts can be tremendously useful for language learners. You can use them multiple ways, so if you can find a script for the film you’re watching, don’t let it go to waste!

One way to use a script effectively is to read it before you watch the movie. This will give you a clear idea of the story and characters. Plus, you can look up any unfamiliar words and study them before you ever hear them in context.

Another way to use film scripts is to keep them handy as you watch the film. This way, you can read along as you watch or refer to the script when you can’t make out exactly what a speaker said.

To find scripts, you can use a script database or try searching the title of the film you’re interested in and the word “script” in your target language.

Resource:

Simply Scripts

Simply Scripts is a script database. While it doesn’t have tons of international movie scripts, it does have a few very popular options, such as “El Laberinto del Fauno” (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) and “Cidade de Deus” (“City of God”).

5. Change up your subtitling options.

Subtitles can be a great tool to help you understand what’s happening even if you miss a few words. For instance, Netflix is popular even among language learners because it has tons of international movies with subtitles in different languages. However, if you’re not careful, you might find yourself inadvertently reading a film and not listening at al

To avoid this, it’s good to develop a strategy. For instance, you might try alternating watching segments with the subtitles on and off:

  • Listen to the scene in your target language and see how much you understand.
  • Then, turn on the subtitles to check how much you caught.
  • Turn the subtitles back off to see if you can understand more now.

If you don’t want to repeat segments so often, you can also focus on the dialogue and only skim the subtitles if you realize you don’t understand.

Always remember that subtitles are just a tool to help prop you up until your skills are refined enough that you don’t need them. Your ultimate goal should be weaning yourself off from them.

6. Break the movie into chunks.

You don’t have to watch the entire movie all in one sitting! Go ahead and break the movie into snippets. Luckily, movies are pretty easy to break into sections because scenes have natural start and end points.

Breaking a movie into chunks can make approaching the film less overwhelming. It also gives you the opportunity to focus more fully on the language by taking scenes out of the context of the broader plot. As an added bonus, a few minutes of viewing are much easier to work into your daily schedule than a full-length movie.

7. Rewatch the same chunk and/or movie often.

Rewatching is key to learning. After all, most language education relies heavily on repetition, so learning through watching a movie should be no different.

Rewatching movie scenes is very convenient. Because they’re usually only a few minutes long, you can immediately rewatch chunks until you understand them thoroughly. When you’re done, simply move on to the next section and repeat.

And even once you’ve watched every chunk in a movie, go ahead and rewatch that movie a few more times! Pay particular attention to interesting quotations, new vocabulary or challenging grammar rules. Not only will this reinforce what you learned, you’ll undoubtedly catch things that you didn’t notice before.

8. Keep a vocabulary list.

Don’t know a word? Jot it down and keep watching.

Stopping to look up words can interrupt the flow of your viewing and prevent you from figuring out words based on context. But if you jot words down, you can look them up and study them more when you’re not in the middle of watching. That way, the next time you watch the movie, you’ll understand even more.

9. Try transcribing the dialogue.

As you watch, try writing down portions of dialogue. This will help you focus squarely on the language because you’ll be trying to make out individual words. Rewind and watch again until you’ve written down as much of the dialogue as you possibly can. Then, look over your work to see if it makes sense.

Not only will it help you listen more actively, you can also use the transcript you made as a study tool to reinforce vocabulary and/or learn quotes.

For an added challenge, try summarizing a scene in your target language after you watch it.

Resources:

Google Translate 

If you get confused with transcribing and you can’t access subtitles, you even get help from a translator app with a voice translation option, like Google Translate. What’s convenient about Google Translate is it works on your browser, plus you can also download the mobile app (Android or iOS) and activate the voice recognition feature while a movie’s playing.

As a bonus, it can even detect languages on its own, which can be helpful if you’re watching a multicultural movie with different languages!

10. Interact with the movie.

Movie watching is usually a one-way street: it talks, you listen. But when you’re learning a language, you need to engage more. 

Listening and speaking are very different skills. While watching movies can improve your listening skills, it doesn’t usually do much for your speaking skills, which could lead to an imbalanced skill set. 

Luckily, you can interact with the movie you’re watching so you get both listening and speaking practice!

During dialogue scenes, pause and guess what the next character will say. When you hear a line you like, repeat it aloud. Hey, you could even shout advice to characters if that’s what you’re into. The key here is speaking your target language.

And if you’re watching a movie with action sequences, don’t let your language learning stop during those long periods without dialogue. Instead, narrate what is happening using your target language. No need to waste those precious seconds you could be improving your language skills!

11. Memorize key quotes.

Is there a quote in the movie that you just love? Did you hear any quotes that used tricky grammar rules? Go ahead and memorize them.

Quotes can serve as terrific models to help you remember vocabulary and grammar rules. You can also use them as a model when constructing similar sentences in the future. Plus, you never know when you’ll want to whip out a quote from your favorite movie.

12. Don’t look up every word.

“OMG! I don’t know that word! I need to look it up!” Those words might come out of your mouth a lot when you’re watching movies in your target language. In fact, it can be tempting to look up the exact meaning of every single word you’re not 100% familiar with.

While this could be a good vocabulary-building activity, it doesn’t provide great listening practice. After all, you’ll be focused too much on individual words to really understand the overall message.

Plus, you may hear a word you don’t know in conversation. Having experience in determining meaning based on context will help prepare you for this situation.

Instead of focusing on individual words, focus on overall meaning and get the gist of it. If you miss a word or two, that’s fine. Sometimes, it just isn’t realistic to pause and look up every word you don’t know, so learning how to fill in any vocabulary gaps with educated guesses is a valuable skill.

13. Take breaks to process information. 

When you watch a movie in your native language, you probably watch it straight through with only a few breaks to get more snacks. However, when you’re trying to learn a language, watching straight through might be rushing the process too much.

For one, you might miss something. It can be harder to pick up key details in your target language, so you might get lost. Additionally, repetition is valuable for language learning and watching a movie straight through just doesn’t provide the sort of repetition you need to memorize vocabulary or grammar rules.

Instead, after every scene or two, you might take a break to think about what you just saw. What happened? What new vocabulary did you hear? This will give you time to process what you’re watching.

14. Interact with other movie fans online.

Reaching out to other movie fans online is a great way to add both reading and writing practice to your experience learning through movies.

There are forums, chat rooms and fan pages in virtually any language you can imagine. To find fan groups in your target language, try searching “movie fans,” “movie forum” or “movie chat” in your target language. 

Resource:

Reddit

Reddit is a great resource to interact with people from all over the world, but many people don’t realize that there are subreddits in other languages.

If you love Spanish-language movies, you might enjoy the Cine (Cinema) subreddit. While most posts are about American movies, there’s nothing stopping you from starting a new thread about your favorite international films!

15. Start a movie club with friends studying your target language.

You can infuse your movie learning habits with terrific conversation practice! All you need to do is identify some friends who are also studying your target language and start up a movie club.

Decide on a movie together. If you want to do some preparation ahead of time, you can each do a little research and come up with a list of vocabulary the film might feature and then study together.

Then, watch the movie as a group. Afterwards, you can discuss what you thought of the film, what your favorite parts of the movie were and what confused you. If you feel like putting on a show, you could even reenact scenes… the more dramatically, the better!

16. Set reasonable expectations. 

Many resources for students are slower and easier to understand than native speech, so even if you’ve studied extensively, you might not be able to understand authentic resources like movies right off the bat.

Plus, expecting to understand immediately is doing yourself a disservice. If you expect listening to be easy, you might be disappointed and demotivated when it isn’t as easy as you thought it would be. 

Because of this, don’t set your expectations too high. Trust that you’ll understand part of the movie, but realize that not understanding everything is nothing to be ashamed of and doesn’t reflect on your overall knowledge. Understanding native speech takes time, even if you’ve studied extensively.

Keep watching, though, and at some point, you might be able to understand entire movies in your target language the first time you watch them.

How to Study Movies Based on Your Level 

Now that you’ve got some ideas for making the most out of movies as a language learner, you can customize it further based on your level: 

Beginner: Excitement and Motivation

As a beginner, you probably aren’t even going to learn some basics from watching movies.

What a movie can give you in these early stages is something else very important: passion, enthusiasm and excitement for your new language. Choose the right movie and, after watching, you will most likely be left with strong desire to learn the language so that you can meet the people who speak it and venture into their world.

I owe most of my decision to start learning Spanish to a Mexican movie, Y tu mamá también. When I went to see this movie at the cinema, I had already vaguely considered learning Spanish. But during the movie I fell in love with the Spanish language and the passion with which it was spoken by the movie’s characters. I also fell in love with the culture and scenery of Mexico, which this movie opened a window to.

What this movie gave me, as well as a fantastic introduction to some Mexican swear words, was a strong determination to become so accomplished in Spanish that I could understand the movie without subtitles.

If you can find a movie that gives you that amount of motivation to learn a language, then watching foreign language movies is very important for any beginner. Of course, what follows is many many hours of study, practice and immersion before you will do anything close to learning the language, but every language learner needs a motivation and a wonderful foreign movie could be yours.

How to watch foreign movies at a beginner’s level

At this level, watch a foreign movie with English subtitles and don’t even worry about trying to understand the language, just enjoy the movie and soak up the culture.

You can also start small, with how-to tutorials, vlogging channels or anything else that piques your interest. Spending a little time preparing yourself for full-length movies will help your movie learning experience go much more smoothly.

Intermediate: Native Accent and a Sharp Ear

Like the beginners, as an intermediate student you’ll still have a lot to learn about your new language. You’ll have yet to tackle some of the trickier aspects of grammar, but watching a full-length movie isn’t going to help much with that. Keep watching those movies though, because once you have some familiarity with your target language, it’s still a very useful activity to supplement your structured study.

At this level, you can use movies to gain familiarity with the rhythm and sounds of a language. One thing that some people find really challenging when learning a language is mastering the accent. Hearing the accent regularly in movies will make you feel more comfortable with the sounds you’re aiming to mimic.

You’ll also spot and recognize words every now and then during a movie, which will be extremely rewarding. It will prove to yourself that you are genuinely making progress. It’s a great feeling to get that little spark of excitement when a recognizable word suddenly jumps out at you. I also find that hearing a word I recognize in a “real life” context also helps that word stick in my memory.

How to watch foreign language films at an intermediate level

At this level, watch foreign movies with English subtitles, but try and tune in to the language just a little, even for a couple of minutes at a time. You could also try watching a movie in your own language with foreign subtitles. If you hear an interesting phrase and you’d like to know how it translates, glance at the subtitles to find out.

Advanced: Vocabulary and Retaining Level

Here is where movies really start to be an excellent resource for language learners. You’ve been learning your language for years, you’re comfortable with every grammatical construction and maybe you’ve even lived abroad to immerse yourself in the language.

You’ve reached a point where you’re relatively fluent, and all you really need to do now is expand your vocabulary and make sure you don’t lose what you’ve worked so hard to learn.

Watching movies or TV series at this level is a genuinely enjoyable way to maintain and expand on what you know of your second language.

I also find that spending an hour or two watching a Spanish movie, for example, sets my brain into “Spanish mode” and leaves me thinking in Spanish for a couple of hours after. This definitely makes it a great way to prepare for a speaking test or a meeting with a language exchange partner!

How to watch foreign language films at an advanced level

At this level you can go native and take the plunge with a foreign language movie without subtitles. If that’s a little too intimidating (let’s face it, a movie with an unusual accent or a lot of slang can be tricky to understand even for the most fluent language speaker), adding subtitles in your target language is the best move.

You could also try watching a favorite classic English movie dubbed in the language you’re learning. I recently watched “Back to the Future” dubbed in Spanish, and not only was it great fun to revisit an old favorite, but it gave me some welcome exposure to Spanish as well.

Top 6 Websites for Watching Foreign Language Movies 

Already looking forward to bingeing on movies in your target language? To get you set up, here are seven websites where you can access international movies, sometimes with subtitles or dubbing: 

1. Netflix

learn a language by watching movies Netflix is one of the most popular movie resources out there. Luckily, your subscription also grants you access to tons of foreign language movies. Simply search the name of your target language and “movies” to find options.

Top Options

Standout Features

  • Subtitling is flexible. Netflix offers English subtitles for all foreign-language movies. However, unlike many other movie streaming platforms, it also allows you to turn them on or off.
  • Netflix offers a huge array of languages. Many movie resources offer only very common languages or focus on specific regions. Netflix, on the other hand, includes movies from all over the world.

How to Get the Most out of It

  • Want even more flexible subtitling options? Try to find Netflix Originals. Netflix subtitles are flexible to begin with, but Netflix Originals tend to offer even more options. That’s because Netflix Originals generally offer captions in the language of the movie, too. That means you can watch a movie in Chinese while reading along in Chinese.
  • Connect with other language students to discuss what you’re watching on Netflix. If you meet someone online or know someone in person who’s studying the same language as you, you could work in speaking or writing practice by communicating about what you’re watching in your target language on Netflix. And because Netflix is so widely used, it can be an excellent resource for movie clubs.

2. Hulu

learn a language by watching movies Hulu is another streaming service where language students can find some international content. It isn’t quite the fount of international content that Netflix is, but it does offer up some strong options.

 

Top Options

Standout Features

  • Its international content is largely Asian. Unlike Netflix, Hulu’s international content has a clearer regional focus, and that focus is on Asia. Specifically, Hulu offers a good deal of Korean content.
  • Offerings change often. Hulu’s content seems to change pretty frequently, so if you don’t find something to watch now, you might in a few days!

How to Get the Most out of It

  • If you find something you want to watch, watch it as soon as possible. Because Hulu seems to change content often, if you spot a movie in your target language you really want to watch, try to do it as soon as possible. It would be tragic for it to disappear before you get a chance to learn from it!
  • Try to find scripts in your target language. Hulu offers English subtitles, but you’re unlikely to find as many movies subtitled in your target language as you can on Netflix. Because of this, finding movie scripts in your target language can be a helpful tool to allow you to read along as you watch. To find movie scripts, try searching the name of the movie and “script” in your target language.

3. Amazon

learn a language by watching movies Amazon has a unique mixture of movies you can stream and movies you can purchase on DVD.

Amazon is a particularly good resource for finding familiar movies dubbed in a variety of languages. When purchasing international DVDs, just be sure to check the region to make sure they’re compatible with your DVD player.

Having trouble finding movies in your target language on Amazon? Search for your favorite movie on DVD, then scroll down to “Product Details.” Here, you’ll find a list of languages you can watch the movie in.

Top Options

Standout Features

  • You can stream movies with Amazon Prime and purchase DVDs. While Prime Videos doesn’t offer tons of international movies, you can definitely find a handful of good options. Most movie resources also focus on streaming, so if you’re looking for DVDs, Amazon may be your best option. 
  • It’s one of the best resources for finding children’s movies in foreign languages. This makes Amazon a good resource for beginning students.
  • It offers a lot of dubbed movies. You might be able to find movies in your target language that you’ve already watched in English, so following along would be easier. 

How to Get the Most out of It

  • Watch dubbed movies right after watching the English version. Watching the English version first gives you a clear idea of the plot and meaning. When you watch in your target language, having this familiarity will make it easy to focus exclusively on the language itself.
  • Memorize songs from Disney movies. Disney movies are incredibly catchy, and you can use that to your advantage! Memorizing songs from Disney movies in your target language can help you remember vocabulary and grammar rules. Plus, your friends will be super impressed if you start belting “I’ll Make a Man out of You” in Chinese!

4. AsianCrush

learn a language by watching movies

AsianCrush is a streaming service that focuses exclusively on Asian movies and TV.

Top Options

Standout Features

  • AsianCrush focuses on Asian languages. It’s perfect for anyone learning Asian languages like Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. 
  • It offers a lot of filters. You can filter by country, genre and theme, making it easier to find something to fit your tastes. If you’re searching for Chinese films, just note that the China region includes largely movies from Hong Kong, which are generally in Cantonese. If you’re looking for movies in Mandarin, perusing options from Taiwan is more likely to yield results.
  • You can watch movies for free. Sure, AsianCrush has premium options. However, it also offers lots of free material supported by ads. This makes AsianCrush a good choice for learners looking to save money.

How to Get the Most out of It

  • Try not to lean on the subtitles. Movies have English subtitles, and you can’t turn them off. So if you’re looking for language practice, you’ll have to make a point not to simply read along in English.
  • Don’t be afraid to watch a TV series instead of a movie. AsianCrush offers a lot of TV series that are just as riveting as movies. Plus, because they often offer several hours of content, you may end up binge watching (and therefore, binge learning).

5. Viki

learn a language by watching movies

Viki is another streaming service that focuses on Asian content. You can find plenty of great movies and TV shows out of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and more.

Top Options

Standout Features

  • Viki focuses exclusively on Asian languages. Like Asian Crush, Viki is a great option for students studying these languages.
  • You can filter by subtitle options. If you have a specific subtitle scheme in mind, Viki’s filtering option can help you narrow down your search.
  • There’s a wider array of subtitling options. Viki offers more subtitle options than other sources, so you can find movies subtitled in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and a huge array of other languages, giving learners more options. This is especially useful if English isn’t your first language!

How to Get the Most out of It

  • Read reviews ahead of time. Viki includes reviews of the movies, so it’s easy read reviews before you watch a movie. While some reviews may contain spoilers, they can also help you understand the film better before you attempt to watch it.
  • Connect with other fans. Viki offers a community feature with a discussions forum, so you can find other passionate movie fans to connect with. Who know, you might even be able to find a great language exchange partner!

6. YouTube

learn a language by watching movies

YouTube features user-uploaded videos, but you can also find plenty of movies on the site.

Some of them are uploaded by fans, so they may come and go due to copyright restrictions. However, you can sometimes find some great material just by searching “movie” in your target language.

Top Options

Standout Features

  • Most of the videos on YouTube are free. You can watch movies on YouTube for free, so it’s a strong resource for anyone looking to save money or wanting to try learning with movies before they put any money into it.
  • Options vary in difficulty level. You may find movies appropriate for complete beginners, like kids’ movies or subtitled films. You may find movies for advanced speakers, and you’ll probably find tons of options between those two levels.
  • You never know what you’ll find. Not knowing what to expect can be an exciting adventure and test of your skills. If you want to experiment and see what’s out there, Youtube a great choice! Because you might not have subtitles, a movie description or even a title, you’ll need to use your language skills to figure out what’s going on.

How to Get the Most out of It

  • Engage with other viewers in the comments section. One huge benefit of YouTube is that it features a comments section, which is often quite active. For language learners, this can provide both reading and writing practice.

  • Consider making your own movie review videos. You’ll already be using YouTube for language learning, so why not take it to the next level? Post reviews of the movies you watch in your target language to work some speaking practice into your learning routine.

Other Ways to Find Great Foreign Language Movies 

Instead of starting from scratch at Google, we have several helpful guides for you with specific movie recommendations for the following target languages:

If you’d like to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s hot in the world of foreign cinema, larger cities often hold film festivals focusing on particular languages or regions of the world. The films featured in these festivals have been hand-picked, and the festival listings will usually be online.

So you could search, for example, “Spanish film festival 2022” or “Latin American film festival 2022” in order to read in English about the latest good releases. It of course doesn’t matter whether or not there’s a film festival near you; the point is to use the titles from the festivals to get a hold of your own copy of any of the listed movies you’d like to watch.

Another great way to find movies that you’re going to enjoy is to watch out for any actor/actress you like in a foreign movie, and then use IMDb to see what other films they’ve appeared in. If you find the actor or actress particularly funny or attractive, that’s already a good sign that you’ll enjoy watching him or her in other movies. Believe me, I’ve chosen to watch a few Spanish films simply because of their good-looking leading man!

Language Learning Movie Recommendations by Genre 

Finally, let’s look at what each movie genre can do for your language learning, along with at least one activity and a couple of recommendations. We’ll also show you some general lists of great films for learners of different languages along the way that you can use to find the genres of your choice.

Drama

Drama has a more serious reputation—this is the genre you’ll generally see nominated for big awards.

Movies in the drama genre can cover a wide range of topics. To select a film based on what vocabulary you want to learn, you’ll need to look beyond the “drama” categorization. For instance, you might find romance, history, crime and more within this genre, all with their own topical vocabulary sets.

Activity

Big-deal dramas are usually written about extensively. Critics (both professional and amateur) want to put their two cents in to assess and analyze the latest, most anticipated offerings.

For language learners, all the reviews, accolades and criticisms can be learning gold, since there’s a good chance many are written in your target language:

  • After watching a critically acclaimed drama film, go online and search for the film name and “review” or “analysis” in your target language. Then, you can read what others have said about the movie you just watched, working a little thematic reading practice into the mix.
  • Try writing your own reviews in your target language at IMDb to reinforce the vocabulary you learned in the film and practice your writing.

Drama Recommendations

“قضية رقم٢٣” (The Insult)

Language: Lebanese Arabic 

In this Oscar-nominated film, events snowball and two men, a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee, end up on opposite sides of a court battle. While there’s some “inappropriate” language (in fact, the titular “insult” itself), the film also features plenty of court scenes to help you perfect your Arabic legal vocabulary.

Looking for more Arabic movies in different genres and dialects? Here’s a drama-heavy list of movies in Levantine Arabic, and here’s a varied list of highly-acclaimed movies spanning multiple Arabic dialects.

“Una mujer fantástica” (A Fantastic Woman) 

Language: Spanish

This film from Chile won an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film, and from watching it, it’s easy to see why. It follows a young trans woman whose older companion dies unexpectedly. In the wake of his death, she must confront grief, prejudice and the accusation that she is responsible for his death.

You can find more Spanish-language movies of different genres on Amazon Prime, on Netflix and on other streaming sites.

Comedy

The main focus of comedy is obvious: it’s funny.

The humor can vary between dark, goofy, slapstick or even a combination, but you can expect to laugh.

One unique feature of comedies is that they’re more likely to feature wordplay than other genres, which can be helpful for advanced learners to really test out their skills. After all, understanding wordplay in your target language is a great sign that your skills are very advanced since it often doesn’t translate directly or literally.

Activity

  • Go ahead and memorize jokes! You can use jokes as models for grammar rules, to help you memorize vocabulary or for speaking practice. Plus, you can share them with your language-learning friends as a fun way to liven up your conversations.
  • Attempt to mimic the humor of a film. Based on the general tone and language of the film, you might also try making up your own jokes in your target language. What punchlines can you come up with that the protagonist failed to deliver? What funny scenarios could they have added to the film? Describe them in your target language for a little extra language practice.

Comedy Recommendations

“Er ist wieder da” (Look Who’s Back)

Language: German

Okay. Before you read any further, please swallow any beverages that are presently in your mouth to avoid spit-takes.

Got it down?

Good. “Look Who’s Back” is a German satirical comedy in which Adolf Hitler awakens from his bunker in 2014, is mistaken for an actor and starts shooting YouTube videos, all while adjusting to the modern world.

For more comedies and other genres in German, you can once again look on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

“Il a déjà tes yeux” (He Even Has Your Eyes)

Language: French

In this French comedy, a French-African couple finally gets to adopt a baby. There’s just one little surprise: the baby is white. The family must struggle with relatives who don’t want to accept a white baby as one of their own and a racist social worker. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the film is categorized as a comedy and takes a more lighthearted approach.

For French-language movies in this genre and others, check out Netflix, more Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Romance

Ah, romance. It’s the genre that makes you long for long walks through the park with your beloved (or with your celebrity crush). 

However, the romantic genre generally overlaps with other genres, like comedy and drama. Still, films in that fall clearly into this genre usually feature romantic vocabulary and flirty interactions, so it’s an ideal genre for anyone looking to prepare for romance or just interested in learning more dating and relationship vocabulary.

Activity

Inevitably, heroes in romantic films face constant romantic setbacks. Think of pickup lines, declarations or explanations in your target language that could help them land their beloved or at least get out of trouble, realistically or not. Shout them at the screen as the protagonist flounders. See, you totally have more game than that silly protagonist.

Romance Recommendations

Amélie

Language: French

In this whimsical French romantic comedy, a shy, naive Parisian woman secretly affects the lives of those around her based on what she feels they deserve. But along the way, she also falls in love with a mysterious stranger. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and received widespread acclaim, and anyone who watches it will understand why. It has undeniable charm.

“Bianca come il latte, rossa come il sangue” (White as Milk, Red as Blood)

Language: Italian

Perhaps this Italian film could be better described as a “romantic dramedy” since it has aspects of romance, comedy and drama. But whatever you call it, Italian learners can fall in love with the movie. It follows a boy enamored with a girl who has cancer.

For more Italian movies that fall into romance and other genres, check out this Netflix list.

Action/Adventure

If you’re an adrenaline junkie, action/adventure movies might be just what you need in your life.

This genre offers edge-of-your-seat action. Action and adventure films can also include some sub-genres that you may not immediately associate with the genre, including war films, fantasy and sci-fi.

While films in this genre may feature more specialized vocabulary, which can prove challenging, there are also more breaks in dialogue to give you time to think about what you heard.

Activity

Whenever the dialogue stops and action occurs, try to narrate what you’re seeing on screen. Give as many details as you can. You’re only limited by your own vocabulary, so it’s up to you what you say, but narrating will help you practice using your vocabulary in context, giving you speaking practice. 

Action/Adventure Recommendations

“功夫瑜伽” (Kung Fu Yoga)

Language: Mandarin

This movie may be in Mandarin, but that doesn’t mean that English speakers won’t recognize a familiar face. That’s because Jackie Chan stars in this high-grossing action-adventure comedy.

In it, Chan plays an archaeology professor who teams up with another professor to find Tibetan treasure. Though they manage to find it, a team of mercenaries stand in their way. You never know where mercenaries will crop up these days.

Here are 7 more Mandarin movies on Netflix, and a list for Amazon Prime as well.

“Elite Squad: The Enemy Within” 

Language: Portuguese 

This popular and acclaimed Brazilian crime film follows a special operations force. Rest assured, there are plenty of intense situations that will get your blood pumping. And the increased blood flow to your brain must be good for Portuguese learning, right?

Here’s a list of Netflix movies in both Brazilian and European Portuguese.

Horror

If you can’t resist a good scare, horror is definitely the genre for you.

Horror movies are designed to be frightening. Rather than leaning heavily on language, horror movies generally lean more on visuals (and, of course, gore). Still, you’ll get plenty of creepy vocabulary words, which you can study to distract yourself from the intense, quiet scenes where you just know someone or something is about to scare the living daylights out of you.

Activity

The creepy, prolonged silences that are so standard in the genre provide plenty of opportunities to insert additional learning opportunities during a horror flick.

All you have to do is exactly what you do with any horror movie: shout advice to the protagonists. In this case, just try to do it in your target language. This will give you some speaking practice and the opportunity to use whatever vocabulary you’ve learned from the movie so far.

Horror Recommendations

“부산행” (Train to Busan)

Language: Korean 

I’m sure all Korean students are eager to learn the word for “zombie.” Well, now’s your chance! “Train to Busan” is a horror movie that features a father desperately trying to take his daughter to reach the one city that’s safe from a zombie outbreak. But first, they must survive the train ride.

Here are 7 more Korean movies on Netflix spanning various genres that you just might love.

“リアル鬼ごっこ” (Tag)

Language: Japanese 

In this horror flick, a bizarre school bus accident leaves just one teenage girl alive. However, she’s transported to a different high school in a strange, parallel universe where violence abounds.

It’s bloody. It’s weird. And it just might be any horror fan and/or Japanese student’s favorite thing ever.

Japanese and horror movies might seem to go hand in hand, but this list of Japanese movies on Netflix goes a lot further, genre-wise.

Looking for horror movies in other languages? You may want to check out these 10 scary Spanish flicks and five German fright films. Some of these French sci fi features may also do the trick.

Children’s

Whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart, children’s movies can be fun to watch. And let’s be real—some of their jokes are clearly intended for adults, anyway.

While children’s movies are obviously intended for children overall, they’re also great for beginning and intermediate learners since they tend to rely on basic, general vocabulary and dialogue is usually spoken more slowly and clearly than in other films. So if other genres seem a little too daunting, this is the genre for you!

Activity

  • Repeat lines whenever there’s a pause in dialogue. Since children’s movies usually feature slower, clearer dialogue than other film genres, they provide a great opportunity to fine-tune your pronunciation as you watch. If the pauses aren’t as long as you’d like, you might even try pausing the movie while you repeat the same line over and over again until you’ve nailed down the nuances of the pronunciation.
  • Make well-decorated flashcards of vocabulary words you learned from the movie if the movie inspires you to fully embrace your inner child. Then, you can study these words so that the next time you watch the movie, you can understand it with less effort.

Children’s Movie Recommendations

“Anina”

Language: Spanish 

“Anina” is an animated movie from Uruguay/Colombia.

It follows a girl who gets into a spat at school. She receives a punishment that propels her into various adventures that teach her about herself and the world around her.

“Heidi”

Language: Swiss German 

This live-action children’s film from Switzerland is based on the classic novel of the same name, in which a young girl moves to the Alps to live with her grandfather.

Plus, as an awesome learning bonus, you can also read the original German-language book for free from Project Gutenberg or listen to it for free from LibriVox.

For more animated movies in the above and other languages, you can check out these lists:

 

Watching films can be one of the most fun ways to improve your skills—the trick is knowing how to learn a language by watching movies.

With the right strategies, movies can be powerful and enjoyable language learning tools.

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