Have you ever watched a movie and thought, “Boy, I learned a lot from that?”
Unless you watch a lot of documentaries, you probably haven’t.
And that’s okay.
I mean, who really needs to know how to survive a day trapped in someone else’s body or single-handedly save the world? It’s not like your life has that much in common with “Freaky Friday” or “Avengers: Endgame.”
But that doesn’t mean that movies aren’t an educational opportunity waiting to happen.
In fact, 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 these 14 tips, you can learn a language by watching movies you love!
Why You Need to Approach Learning a Language Through Movies Carefully
When watching movies in your target language, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the language. After all, if you haven’t done much listening practice, listening to a solid two hours of your target language in one sitting can be a lot.
To prevent yourself from becoming intimidated, pay careful attention to our tips for how to learn a language by watching movies. Knowing what to do next, how to approach movies and which tools you can use for a little extra assistance can make foreign language movies much less daunting.
Additionally, you might get swept away by the plot and forget to pay attention to the language. Movies are simply too entertaining!
It’s one of the most fun pitfalls of learning a language with movies, but it can still be problematic if you’re watching the movie specifically to improve your language skills. Preparing ahead of time can help put the focus on the language without taking the fun out of enjoying the plot.
You could also end up leaning too heavily on subtitles. Most foreign films offer English subtitles, which can be a helpful way to ensure you don’t miss anything important. However, if you’re not careful, you might end up reading the subtitles and forgetting to listen to the language. If you want to learn a language through movies, you need to make sure to pay attention to your target language rather than lean too heavily on English subtitles.
Plus, you could choose the wrong movie for your goals. If you’re a beginning student and choose and intense, dialogue-heavy movie, it might not suit your needs. Likewise, if you’re an advanced student watching movies for kids, you may not be adequately challenged.
Even movie genres can impact whether or not a movie will help you meet your goals. For instance, if you’re looking to improve your language skills for business, you’re better off choosing a movie that would use related vocabulary, like a drama set in an office rather than a space odyssey.
Finally, you might overlook activities to maximize your learning. Watching movies is a terrific learning activity, but there are other activities you can use in conjunction with movie viewing to get even more out of the experience. Don’t let your movie-induced trance blind you to the other options available!
Learn a Language Through Movies with These 14 Innovative Tips
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.
Not only can FluentU supply you with shorter viewing options, it can also support you as you watch them!
Each bite-sized video features annotated subtitles. You can look up any word’s definition and example sentences with just a click. Plus, if you want to study a word later, just add it to your vocabulary list.
If you want to change up your learning strategy, try Quiz Mode. Quiz Mode incorporates videos, images and example sentences into interactive activities and flashcards.
And because FluentU is flexible, it’s appropriate for any level of language learner, whether you’re just starting out or you’re already an advanced speaker. You choose what you watch, when you watch and how quickly you watch. Meanwhile, FluentU’s algorithm tracks your learning to present you with level-appropriate questions that build on what you’ve already learned. As a result, each learner has a 100% personalized experience!
You can use FluentU however it’s convenient for you, whether you use it online, download the iOS app, or try the Android app.
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.
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.
To do this, pay attention to what a movie is about to make sure you’ll enjoy it. For instance, if you abhor violence, an action flick might not be a great choice.
Also, pay attention to its level to make sure it works with your skill set. A children’s movie might be a great option for beginning students, while dramas can be better for more advanced speakers.
Finally, consider whether the vocabulary is worthwhile. If you’re looking to learn useful vocabulary, you may be better off selecting a romantic comedy or something with everyday scenarios rather than something with highly specialized vocabulary, like a fantasy film.
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.
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.
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. Give what you’re watching your full focus.
When you watch movies in your native language, you might do other things, like snack, chat with friends or play on your phone.
To get the most out of watching a movie in your target language, you’ll need to give it more attention. Focusing on the film and minimizing distractions will allow you to pay more attention to the language and attempt to understand what you hear.
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.
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! 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 this help you listen more actively, you can also use the transcript you made as a study tool to reinforce vocabulary and/or learn quotes.
10. Interact with the movie.
Movie watching is usually a one-way street: it talks, you listen. A balanced language education requires more well-rounded skills than that, though.
Luckily, you can interact with the movie you’re watching so you get both listening and speaking practice!
One way to do this is to pause the movie as you watch and speak to it in your target language. You could give characters advice, ask them questions or say what you think is going to happen next.
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. Plus, you never know when you’ll want to whip out a quote from your favorite movie.
12. Change up your subtitling options.
If your resource offers multiple subtitling options, change them up.
Watching with English subtitles the first time you watch the movie can help familiarize you with the plot. However, switching to subtitles in your target language or even turning off those subtitles can provide a much more immersive experience.
Netflix offers tons of international movies with terrific subtitling options. With Netflix, you can always choose whether or not you want English subtitles.
But sometimes, you’ll find something even more magical than English subtitling: captions in your target language! These can help you read along as you listen, making it easier to pick out individual words.
13. 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” or “movie chat” in your target language.
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.
For instance, Spanish-speaking movie fans 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!
14. 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!
Do you have a better grasp on learning a language through movies now? Then tune into a great movie and turn up your language skills with these 14 picture-perfect tips!
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