Media-based language learning rules.
It’s an exciting new option that was nearly impossible before the age of the Internet.
Before, unless you were willing to shell out cash for a foreign cable or satellite channel (assuming one was even available in the language you wanted), you couldn’t watch everyday TV and movies in your target language.
Sure, if you were lucky, your local library may have had a foreign movie section, but it was probably crowded with esoteric classics with complicated plots and dialogue.
Now, the Internet—and namely YouTube—has changed all of this.
It’s easy to watch sitcoms or reality TV in your target language. You can find movie recommendations and hunt down target language media that fits your tastes.
Maybe you’ve already used YouTube for these things. You can take advantage of TV episodes, movie trailers and music, all in your target language.
YouTube even has a number of good channels that produce language lessons, and you might already be using some.
We haven’t even gotten to the good part yet.
YouTube can do even more to help your language learning!
Using Original YouTube Content to Learn a Language
YouTube content creators are the unique ingredient that makes YouTube different from other sources of media. They represent a gold mine of different ways to bring your target language into your life, with enough variety to keep you entertained for ages.
Original YouTube content covers all previously-known genres of entertainment and then some, from makeup and video game tutorials, to comedy, to people just sitting down and talking to their camera.
These videos are created in a different style than mainstream media. The creators speak differently, script differently and, conveniently, the videos are usually around just 5-to-10 minutes long, making them easy to fit into your day.
And, luckily, there are numerous content creators creating in languages other than English!
Because these videos are created by native speakers and for native speakers, the content is most accessible to those who have intermediate to advanced skill levels. But don’t stop reading if you’re a beginner in a language, or haven’t even started learning yet. Anyone can benefit from listening to native speakers speaking at normal speed as early as they want. The sooner you listen to native speakers, the sooner you get used to the new sounds, and the sooner you understand!
Furthermore, learners of any and all levels can easily access this type of content with FluentU, as well as other content you might find on YouTube. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Below, we’ll look at some different types of content you can easily incorporate into your language learning.
First, just one thing to keep in mind: Sometimes countries tend to prefer other video websites over YouTube (for example, Youku and Tudou are two Chinese video websites, and NicoNico is popular in Japan). Additionally, original “vlog” content is not equally popular in every country in the world.
Without further ado, here are 4 ways to incorporate original YouTube content into your language learning diet!
YouTube Rules: 4 Ways to Learn a Language Online with Fun Videos
1. Watch Daily Vloggers
Daily vloggers, by their very name, vlog about everyday topics. They often bring their cameras along with them and film themselves simply talking through their daily lives. Daily vloggers range from young-ish single people to parents vlogging about their families and children.
These types of videos do wonders for getting used to your target language.
Because the vloggers talk about daily life, you’ll acquire everyday vocabulary that you can use when you’re going about your own errands, obligations, etc. The vlogs are rarely scripted, so if you don’t have conversation partners or native speaker friends, you still get a chance to hear the language as it’s really spoken, by real people (this is different from quick-witted TV scripts!). Oftentimes, vloggers will be filming while they’re with a friend or two, so you get to eavesdrop on real conversations instead of monologues or scripted dialogue.
How do I find daily vlogs?
I’ve had a lot of luck simply searching “Daily vlog [target language]” in English (with the name of the target language in the language itself). Daily vlogs are not often included in YouTube channel directories or compilation blog posts—while they tend to have a lot of views, they don’t seem to reach that level of mainstream popularity. Once you find one vlog in your target language, the YouTube suggestions sidebar is a great help in finding more!
Here are some daily vlogs to start off with:
MeloMore (Spanish) — This is the daily vlog of a Spanish musician. She talks to her camera as she goes about her day rehearsing, meeting up for jam sessions and just generally hanging out. She has a more polished comedy channel at YellowMellowMG.
Jenesuispasbavarde (French) — This is the daily life of a French lifestyle and beauty vlogger. She talks about her pets, life in general and sometimes things having to do with her main channel. Like most vloggers, she has a main channel (at Jenesuispasjolie), where she posts videos about lifestyle and beauty.
Magixthing (German) — Here, a German woman vlogs with her two daughters, ages 11 and 6. Again, it’s just daily life, but this one is fun because of the family dynamic.
Mingjai14 (Cantonese) — I don’t know Cantonese, so I’ll just quote the vlogger on this: “Just an ordinary guy who talks about everyday life.” Daily vlogs are pretty similar in terms of theme!
How do I use daily vlogs to improve my language skills?
Find a channel you like, and make it a habit to watch one video every day as part of your study routine. The videos are often short enough to make this very easy to do! If you hear new words, look them up and add them to an SRS deck.
You can listen to the lengthier vlogs while you work or study to get used to the way real people talk. These videos, I think, are best for mass consumption—they give your listening skills a huge boost once you get used to everyday mumbling!
You can even leave comments on the videos themselves and start conversations with native speakers. Respond to a comment that’s already there to have a better chance that someone will actually answer you. You can also take the comments people leave and enter them into your SRS so that you can remember the vocabulary and grammar later!
2. Watch Let’s Play Videos
If you’re a gamer, you’re probably familiar with the Let’s Play genre of YouTube videos. Basically, YouTubers play video games, film them over numerous “episodes,” and narrate them as they go!
And of course, there are people making Let’s Play videos in a number of languages.
But Let’s Play videos aren’t only useful to gamers—they’re fun and easy to get into no matter your experience with video games. These videos, besides adding valuable listening practice, help your language skills in a number of ways.
Like daily vlogs, Let’s Play videos are not scripted, so you’re hearing one person monologue in everyday language. Let’s Play videos tend to have more jokes in them than daily vlogs, so you’ll get an idea of unscripted senses of humor in your target language. Because the YouTuber is narrating what’s going on in the game at the time, there’s plenty of context for you to piece together new words with the action occurring on the screen, without having to look things up in a dictionary.
Additionally, it can sometimes be difficult to find a foreign translation of a beloved game when you don’t live in the country, especially if it’s an older game—Let’s Play videos give you access to these translations! And finally, most video games are pretty lengthy, so if you find one gamer/narrator that you like, you’ll probably have several hours of free content to exhaust!
How do I find Let’s Play videos?
I’ve had the best luck searching “Let’s Play [game title] [target language].” This will get you a lot of content, especially in the more popular languages.
Here are some examples:
RanguGamer (Spanish) — This is a gamer from Spain who plays fun, more family-oriented games. In other words, these aren’t intense shooters, if you’re not into that sort of thing.
StiM (French) — This French gamer plays a wide variety of games, including everything from the most mainstream to independent games he digs up.
赤髪のとものゲーム実況チャンネル!! (Japanese) — This gamer doesn’t have the lengthy playlists of the other two, but also plays a pretty wide variety of games.
How do I use Let’s Play videos to improve my language skills?
Again, with new vocabulary, SRS is your friend. If you hear something over and over, try looking it up, and enter it so you don’t forget it. Take special note of slang, because Let’s Play videos are generally chock full of it. Because Let’s Play narrators have a habit of dramatic yelling, you can even try parroting certain exaggerated phrases.
If you’re super ambitious, you can take a leaf from the book of Dr. Alexander Argüelles and try shadowing, a specific language technique that involves the learner simultaneously pronouncing target language audio.
3. Watch Comedy Sketches
I personally think that the comedy on YouTube is some of the best out there. It’s creative, it’s high-quality and the videos are often only 5 minutes long!
Here, we’re getting into scripted videos, so these have slightly different benefits for your language skills. The scripted jokes will give you insight into the shared sense of humor of the culture, and the slang will make your language skills seem modern and less stilted. And for less-skilled listeners, the scripted nature of these videos tends to make them easier to understand. Less mumbling and fewer context-less phrases! Win!
How do I find comedic YouTubers?
Comedy YouTube channels are pretty easy to find. There are plenty of blog posts compiling the best YouTubers from any particular country or language, and these will mostly be comedic sketch YouTubers (possibly with some make-up tutorial and Let’s Play channels thrown in). To find these, Google “best/funniest YouTubers [language or country]” in either English or your target language.
Here’s an example of such a blog post in French, and here’s one in Spanish. And once you find a channel you like, the YouTube suggestions sidebar will be your best friend! The YouTuber’s channel page will also show you which channels they’re subscribed to, so you can check those out for more ideas.
Here are some great comedy channels:
Cyprien (French) — One of my favorites! Just a lot of great observational comedy and cynical jokes.
HolaSoyGerman (Spanish) — Germán is a Spanish name equivalent to the French Germain, in case you were confused. Very wacky comedy and very fast Chilean speech.
How do I use comedy sketches to improve my language skills?
Comedy channels are especially addictive, so this is a really easy one to incorporate into your daily life—like with any of the other video genres, make it a point to watch one short video every day. Like Let’s Play videos, comedy sketches incorporate plenty of slang and relaxed grammar—take note of these and try to incorporate some of the words when you practice with a conversation partner.
For extra practice, write reviews of your favorite sketches on Lang-8, an online journaling site where native speakers correct your entries.
4. Watch BookTubers
BookTubers are a growing YouTube genre centered on reading, collecting and reviewing books. These videos are often scripted and can get lengthy (up to around 20 minutes!), but the content and reviews themselves aren’t where the main value lies. The videos are great for book recommendations and to supplement your reading—you can watch a review before or after you read a novel to make sure you’ve understood it!
BookTubers tend to be on the young side, usually in their late teens or so. Thus, they mostly talk about young adult fiction, both in translation and in their native languages. Don’t let that turn you off—this is great for language learners! Young adult books are more relevant to adults than children’s books, while still maintaining simpler language and fast-moving plots. So you’re more likely to get engaged and actually finish one of these books, even if it’s in a second language.
How do I find BookTubers?
Simply search “favorite books” in your target language. Most BookTubers routinely review favorite books, so it’s easy to find channels this way!
Here are some of my favorites:
Clau Reads Books (Spanish) — A Mexican BookTuber covers your usual BookTube material here, like book hauls, book reviews, best-of-the-month lists and best-of-year lists. Mostly young adult fiction.
Le Souffle des Mots (French) — A French YouTuber who covers the same kind of vlog tags as above. However, she tends to include more mainstream and literary material.
Winkybooks (German) — Similar content to that above! A lot of young adult recommendations and a lot of high quality book reviews.
Reacizu (Japanese) — This YouTuber’s videos mostly cover tours through her extensive manga collection.
How do I use BookTubers to improve my language skills?
Again, the strength of BookTuber videos lies in their book recommendations. I’ve bought so many books because of watching Spanish-speaking Booktubers, and it’s helped with my Spanish language skills immensely. You can find target language books through Amazon third party sellers, the Kindle store (if you’re learning a popular language) or other online foreign language bookstores like Multilingual Books.
Additionally, you can get value out of these videos by reading a recommended book and then going back to the review to make sure you’ve understood the book. Of course, this can go either way—reading the book will help you understand the videos, as well. All of this serves to give you more context for your vocabulary and grammar, which makes speaking and understanding the language easier!
Sometimes, the hardest part of learning a new language is finding new content to keep you entertained while you’re learning.
Anyone can get bored of the same old TV show, a small library of movies or textbooks. With YouTube, though, there’s plenty of free content right at your fingertips, so you can switch it up whenever you want.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.