How many videos have you watched so far today?
Video is a huge part of our everyday lives now.
It’s extremely personal. We often feel like our favorite video games, movies and shows are pieces of our identities.
It’s also as diverse as the human experience itself, including everything from comedy sketches and drama series to news broadcasts, live interviews, commercials and YouTube clips.
So, of all the countless ways to learn a language, using video is the one dearest to our hearts.
When you get down to it, for those of us living in the real world with all its real demands on our time and attention, effectively using video content is the strategy that’s most likely to propel us from linguistically aspirational to confidently multilingual.
It’s flexible, accessible, multipurpose, multisensory and scientifically proven to be one of the most effective approaches to learning a language.
So what’s all the fuss about?
We could go on forever, but today we’ll cap it at 21 reasons you need more video content in your language learning life.
21 Righteous Reasons You Should Start Learning Languages with Video
1. 21st century language learning has gone digital.
In this day and age, we’ve got more options than worksheets and sentence diagrams.
Digital technology offers us an ever-expanding list of language hacks, but video is unique in that, when used right, it can offer most of the same benefits as real language use.
The language classrooms of yesteryear were stocked with endless books and worksheets about a language, but had little trace of the language itself. Now you can get pretty authentic exposure to native speakers wielding their language by watching the same video content that they watch at home.
In 1986, hunting down some good tapes of TV shows or movies in a foreign language would’ve been an ordeal, but today video content featuring live native speakers couldn’t be further from scarce.
2. Videos are like talking, only not.
Social situations can induce a lot of anxiety, especially for beginners and early-stage learners.
Sometimes the stress of a real social situation can be counterproductive. Instead of focusing on the conversation and the language use, you’re internally screaming at yourself not to say something stupid.
Conversation is important, but watching videos is a safer way of building up to more conversation. Watching people use the language should help you get used to its sound, rhythm and the way people gesture or the expressions they make when they use it. You’ll get a great idea of what a more or less “normal” conversation looks and sounds like.
One way to dip your feet in before taking the plunge into real-life conversation is to sign up for a course like FluentU, which uses everyday video content featuring native speakers of the language you’re learning. All the videos there are ones that natives are watching at home on TV and on their laptops.
You’ll be amazed at what just a bit of exposure to native speech from the safety of your computer screen can do to minimize the anxiety of the real thing!
3. You focus on the speaker instead of formulating a response.
It’s hard to be a good listener in any language when you’re always busy thinking up your responses to the sentences someone hasn’t even finished saying.
But the truth is, to learn any language well, listening is key.
To learn and progress in your language, you’ll need to take the time to attentively listen to native speakers and observe how they use their language. Watching your target language video material gives you the luxury of devoting 100% of your attention to listening—you can even pause to ponder those rules and phrases you almost understood the first time around but needed a second to think about.
4. Language is more than just the words coming out of your mouth.
The vowel and consonant sounds we’re stringing together in everyday speech are only part of the story of communication. People’s expressions, hand gestures and interactions with their environment (like gesturing towards an object while talking about it) all contribute to the whole picture of communicating in any language.
Audio recordings and chats on the phone are good language learning tools, but movies and Skype calls are better.
That’s because looking at all the parts of language and communication as a whole help you not only to better understand the meaning of what you hear, but also to better retain your understanding of what you’ve learned longer and use it more intuitively.
5. Learning a language is learning a skill, not memorizing facts.
We tend to think of our advances in learning a language as being like a progress bar that we can eventually fill up, but it’s not quite that black-and-white. You can memorize all your times-tables or the periodic table of elements, but languages aren’t facts that you can remember—in fact, memorization can even get in the way of real learning.
Instead, languages are more like skills that you need to develop and practice.
If you wanted to learn to ride a bike, would you start by memorizing the names of all its parts? Nope—the adventurous among us might just hop on and give it a try, but the handiest thing short of jumping in the deep end would be first watching a few videos of what this cycling thing looks like in action.
Language is similar. Learning about its rules and origins is important, but a few clips from a sitcom or nightly news report make for better linguistic training wheels than verb conjugation charts and sentence diagrams.
6. Watching videos helps prompt your brain to imitate the learning styles of children.
Being exposed to enough real-life language use can signal to your brain that it’s time for a change.
With the right resources—like lots of video and audio content—you can help promote the kind of brain plasticity that’s required to really learn a language like your younger self.
Immersing your brain in the sounds of a new language can help your brain “reset” itself to a more childlike state, giving a boost to your ability to hear and recognize unfamiliar speech sounds from other languages.
By consistently exposing yourself to native language use with video, you can gradually teach your brain to recognize the new sounds of the language you’re learning, eventually increasing your ability not only to hear and understand but also to use the new sounds and words you’re learning.
7. Learning a language with video can help you to process that language like a native speaker.
One of the more uplifting discoveries of recent neuro-linguistic science is that, contrary to previously long-held beliefs, you can actually learn a language to advanced proficiency even later life.
Under the best circumstances, some learners even achieve native-like brain processing of their second language!
Common wisdom holds that immersion gives you the best chance of achieving near-native linguistic glory, but if you can’t move abroad tomorrow, don’t despair: try creating an immersion environment at home with video!
8. Spanish telenovelas, French films and the rest of the world’s cultural offerings are too good to miss.
It’s impossible to separate any language from the cultural heritage that transmits that language to us.
One of the biggest components of contemporary culture in most parts of the world today is the TV and movies people consume. Watching the same programs that native speakers of your target language are watching in their everyday lives not only allows you to observe the language as it’s used every day, but it also lets you expose yourself to learning about cultural norms and values that influence how people use language every day.
When you’re practicing your Spanish with telenovelas and an actress reacts with an ¡hay dios! and open-mouthed outrage, you can assume the name her co-star just called her was one you’d better not use in polite company.
When you catch this year’s futuristic sci-fi blockbuster, you might be getting a view of that culture’s hopes for and anxieties about the future, as well as how people talk about them.
9. Video teaches you to talk like natives do every day.
As they say, the camera doesn’t lie.
TV and movie scripts are generally written to sound like real-life people talking in real-life scenarios, so you can bet that what’s on prime time is likely a reflection of the times.
If somebody studied an English textbook from the 1970s and took their social cues from there, they’d probably make for an awkward conversation partner in 2016. But tuning into a couple episodes of “NCIS” or “Parks and Recreation,” on the other hand, would give a learner a pretty up-to-date sampling of the way native speakers are talking outside of foreign language classrooms.
10. Native speakers talk fast.
If you’ve never actually interacted with native speakers of your target language before, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise: they talk way faster and less articulately than the carefully-pronounced sentences you’ve been transcribing in your language learning app.
Adjusting to the speed of actual native speech can be a discouraging shock if you’re not ready for it. Watching videos (especially with target language subtitles) is a good way to start making the mental connections between the neatly-typed words you’ve written out on your vocabulary list and the way they actually sound when spoken in the middle of a natural native sentence.
You can pause, rewind and fast forward, and a video clip is usually willing to repeat itself for you as many times as you need!
11. And they use a lot of slang.
It’s not just speed and clarity that can pose challenges, but also the very words and expressions native speakers of any language use in their daily lives. But truthfully, learning slang has to be one of the most exciting parts of learning a new language.
The words people are really using on the street vary between regions and generations in any language, but one thing is sure: most of them don’t make it into standard instruction mediums meant for foreigners.
Accessing authentic video content in your target language—anything from teen sensations’ YouTube channels to everybody’s favorite weeknight sitcom—is a good way to get exposure to these different slang words and regional vocabularies.
You not only get to hear these new words in context, but you can also get a feel for what’s appropriate for whom and in what context before trying it out in sensitive social situations.
12. Videos are easier to incorporate into your routine than grammar books.
One reason people end up not following through on learning languages is because it’s annoying. Trying to squeeze flashcards or lessons into your daily grind can be an enormous hurdle, because there’s really no natural space for these things in your day.
With video, on the other hand, making time for language practice is a breeze: most of us consume plenty of video content already every day between our newsfeeds, idle YouTubing on the way home from work or school, and letting our guts out on the couch to relax at the end of the day.
These are all perfect places to slip in some autopilot language learning, by swapping your cute cat videos for videos of cute cats with German people exclaiming over their cuteness in German from behind the camera.
13. Writing off movie night as language practice is the absolute best.
When you do succeed in making language study time synonymous with chill time, you’ll know true happiness.
That’s why we’re thrilled to tell you that learning a language by watching movies is definitely a thing, and a thing you should be incorporating into your learning routine.
Following extensive storylines and complex discourses is like a gym session for the language learning centers in your brain, and the detailed problem-solving you’ll naturally apply to gaining an understanding of the plot is about as applied as applied language learning gets.
The increasingly detailed context and visual cues in the movie’s environment are great for learning new vocabulary in context, and it’s a way better way to pass your evening than worksheets and grammar drills.
14. You can learn languages with video games.
If watching movies is a solid gym session, then playing video games for language learning is like a triathlon.
Video games almost seem like they must have been made for language learning, with their unique audiovisual immersion that makes you participate in a world and solve problems in it. There’s a reason why there are so many educational games for children out there.
The cognitive cartwheels you have to turn to play a video game in another language are similar to those you turn formulating conversational speech, and the in-context learning environment promotes maximum understanding and retention.
15. Because Netflix.
Netflix is the media industry’s gift to language learners everywhere.
Not only can you find shows and movies in a ton of different languages there, but most of the content is also genuinely engaging and interesting. This means that, once you find the right shows, you’ll eventually be like every other Netflixing couch potato, only your binges will be in another language.
Plus, there’s just something deeply gratifying about writing off a six-hour binge as language practice, like a giant nana-nana-boo-boo to the parents who scolded you for wasting your life away in front of the boob tube.
16. Getting inappropriately emotionally invested in a show and its characters is actually good for your language learning.
Your desperate need for Ross and Rachel to end up together might seem silly, but it’s actually a way to tap into next-level language learning.
Try hard to find good shows with good characters, because they’re actually really good for you.
The parasocial relationships we have with fictional characters—we consciously know that they’re made-up, but they still look and act like real humans, and we often feel as if they’re speaking to us personally—are crucial for children’s acquisition of language, but adults can also benefit from a little make-believe.
Our parasocial TV interactions stimulate the parts of our brain that promote empathy and social learning, which allows us to better and more organically learn the language from the characters we’re watching.
Taking sincere interest with something unfolding in a foreign language helps you think about the content, what’s actually going on, rather than fixating on the language. You start to follow storylines and characters, not words, just like in the shows you love in your mother tongue. That’s the definition of immersion.
17. It gives you something to talk to the locals about when traveling.
Not only does watching all your new favorite shows contribute to your understanding and retention of the language, it also gives you great conversation fodder.
For those traveling abroad or Skyping from overseas, “have you seen the latest episode?” is a great way to start a conversation that’s genuinely interesting to you both.
Even better, you’ll usually be able to learn and use all kinds of new vocabulary quickly when it comes to discussing your shows, since your obsessive understanding of the show’s plot gives you a great context for learning new words and phrases used by the native speakers you discuss it with.
18. We can’t always jump on a plane today, but video can always bring languages to us.
The fact that you can’t drop everything and move overseas is a totally surmountable obstacle.
Video content can fill the void in those times when native speakers and frequent conversation just aren’t reasonable options.
Being able to hop on a platform like FluentU or stream news in your target language in the background helps keep your brain as immersed in the language as possible, while still living in your hometown.
19. Streaming news in a foreign language is the best way to stay informed.
Speaking of watching the news, it’s another seamless way to tie a language into your day and to connect studying language with studying contemporary culture.
The day’s headlines seem tedious sometimes, but watching and listening to them tells you what’s actually happening on the ground where your language is spoken, which can have an impact on the way people use language and certain words every day.
As a bonus, this will help you learn things like names of countries and geographic features in context, adding even more to your repertoire of conversation options for the next time you bump into a native speaker.
20. The best polyglots have their own YouTube channels.
Aside from the ton of language-specific YouTube channels out there providing content for your language learning, the coolest polyglots on the web are also curating YouTube channels with lots of video content to help you learn your target language.
Follow your favorite blogs and vlogs to get personalized tips and recommendations for more video content in your target language.
21. The web is full of video content in every foreign language you can imagine.
In a time when 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube alone every day, the Internet is exploding with digital video content.
As the Internet continues to penetrate more corners of the world and other languages assert their presence online, language learners are only going to have more and more options for video content in the foreign languages they’re studying.
We tend to think learning a language with video is the best way to go.
Sprinkle in summers abroad and private tutors here and there if you can and want to, and experiment with other ways to learn a language to your heart’s content.
But remember that, at the end of the day, if you wanna get the most bang for your buck in terms of maximizing cognitive benefits and learning a language in a natural, fun way, video is the way to go!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.