3 June 2020

This is Sarah Cole's second guest post, written especially for the 20/20 Travel Project. Sarah speaks French at a high level, publishes courses in over 65 different languages, and is currently learning Spanish.

Watching movies or television in a foreign language is one of the most enjoyable and easy ways to learn a language. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t also effective. It’s possibly the best way to pick up the most frequent language used by native speakers, colloquial usage, idioms, and useful expressions to add to your language repertoire. At that same time, you gain insight into the culture, the art, and the psyche of the people. 

You can learn to speak any language, but if you can’t understand or talk about the things that people living in the country are talking about, you might feel a bit lost for words. So, here are some tips to make the most out of your time in front of the television. Keep in mind that it’s good to have some basics of a language to really benefit from watching films, but with subtitles and a desire to learn, you can pick up a great deal of new language.  

Use subtitles: It shouldn’t be a test of understanding, so turn on those subtitles. It’s an incredibly effective way of understanding and learning new words and expressions in context! Seeing simultaneous translations will help you to make associations in English, and for visual learners, it will help you retain what you’ve learned. 

Repeat, repeat, repeat: Once you have watched it with subtitles, try watching it again, now turning off subtitles. See how much you understand and can follow. The more times you hear words in context, the easier it is to put them into your working memory and start using them yourself. 

Study gestures and manners: The unspoken language can support your understanding of the spoken language. Each culture has its own ways of communicating through facial expressions, hand movements, shrugs, smirks, quirks, and other body language expressions that communicate what they’re thinking and trying to say. 

Mimic: Sometimes, to sound natural in a new language, you need to exaggerate. Try mimicking the sounds and gestures of the people in the films. Use your pause button and repeat a line or two until you think you sound close enough to the speaker. Sometimes it feels awkward to hear yourself in a new language and trying on a new accent. But don’t be afraid, the more you exaggerate, the more authentic you will likely sound. 

Memorize: If there is an iconic or poignant scene from a film, try to memorize it! Being able to pick up on or make cultural references in conversation will make your language rich and help you to fit in. Memorizing and reciting a monologue, dialogue, or even a song also helps with your overall fluency and pronunciation skills. 

Act: If you have a willing friend, try acting out a few dialogues from a film together. Sometimes the conversations are a bit more fun and authentic than what you find in your typical language course. It will help with your confidence and your speaking skills immeasurably. 

Lastly, if you just want to pick up language, you can watch English language films you know well dubbed in other languages, or with foreign subtitles. If you already know the plot, you can focus more on the spoken language. If you already know the lines in English, you can easily discover cognates and find other similarities between your new language and English.

So, what are you waiting for? You now have the perfect excuse to binge on foreign films or start a new series from another country! And, who knows, you just may be speaking a foreign language sooner than you think!  


Sarah Cole is the Publishing Director for John Murray Learning, which publishes Teach Yourself language courses in over 65 languages, from Arabic to Zulu, backed by the experience of 75 years of successful publishing. They also publish the successful Michel Thomas courses, which have been perfected over decades of teaching and have been used by over 5 million learners. The Michel Thomas courses enable you to pick up a new language naturally and effortlessly.


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