Ready to learn a new language? Turn on the TV

Woman sitting down, relaxed on the couch. She is getting ready to watch a TV show in another language to help her learn as part of her language training.

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I know someone who learned English by watching The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire. He was already watching it in his native language and was very familiar with the dialogue and storyline, so he started watching in English and picked up the language in a matter of WEEKS. 

There’s also a story in The New York Times about professional baseball players from Latin America who learned English by watching “Friends” with Spanish subtitles. They watched it over and over again until they could understand it. 

My point is, while language lessons are a great way to learn, they’re not the only way. You can learn a language by doing something you already enjoy – watching TV! 

Why is watching TV effective for language learning?

Watching gives you the opportunity to hear what the language sounds like when spoken by native speakers in context. This, in turn, will help you speak more naturally. 

By being intentional with what you choose to watch, you can learn the vocabulary that you want or need, without having to memorize endless lists of words that may not be helpful to you. This means you can skip the focus on language theory and jump right into practice. 

You’ll also learn about culture and pick up on some of the customs of the countries that speak the language you’re learning, which plays a big part in knowing how to navigate the world in that language.  

One of the biggest hurdles that people face when learning a new language is a lack of motivation. One of the main reasons why learning a language by watching TV is so effective is because it’s entertaining and captivating. If you choose a show that keeps you engaged, you’re going to be able to stay focused and motivated. 

Using subtitles to help you learn

Watching TV with subtitles is a great way to learn a language. You can either watch the show with subtitles in your native language or in the native language of the show. Both methods are useful, it just depends on your comfort level. 

To start, listen to the show in your own language, and use the subtitles in the language you’re learning. This is great for beginners because you’ll be able to follow what’s happening in the show in your own language while giving you a chance to boost your vocabulary. 

Once you’re comfortable with your level of understanding, you can take it up a notch and listen to the show in the language you’re learning and use subtitles in your native language. This is good for beginners and intermediate learners because it gives you easier listening practice with identifying individual words. And with subtitles in your native language, it should still be pretty easy to follow the show. 

If you’re ready for a challenge, listen to the show in the language you’re learning AND put the subtitles on in the language you’re learning. With this method, you’ll learn to match what you hear with what you read. You may not understand the show as thoroughly this way, but the visuals on screen should be able to help. 

And if you’re REALLY ready for a challenge, you can listen to the show in the language you’re learning without subtitles. This works best if you’re watching a show you’re already familiar with and have watched several times. Facial expressions and gestures can help you fill in the gaps if you don’t understand every word. 

Tips for learning a language by watching TV

If you want to make the most of learning a language by watching TV, here are some tips: 

  1. Choose the right show. Kids’ shows are great because they use simpler vocabulary and are highly repetitive, which means beginners can easily pick up basic vocabulary and sentence structures. They’re also short with easy-to-follow plots so you can contextualize what you hear. Sitcoms are also a good choice because of their tight, easy-to-follow plots to help you focus on real-world dialogue and cultural nuances. 
  2. Pause, slow down, replay. Don’t be afraid to pause the show, rewind, or restart. This will allow you to stop and look up anything you’re not familiar with, go back and hear a phrase again, or keep replaying the same scene or episode until you understand it. 
  3. Practice your conversational skills. Don’t have anyone to practice with? Talk to your TV! The more speaking practice you get, the better, and although it may feel strange to talk to your TV, it takes out the anxiety of talking to a real person so you can practice as much as you need.

Watching TV is a great way to start learning a new language. You can do it in the comfort of your own home, you can do it at your own pace, and, let’s be honest, you’re probably already spending your nights watching TV, so why not make it educational? 

And if you’re ready to take your language learning to the next level with a language tutor, Global LT can help! Our teachers are the best at what they do, and we’ll match you to the perfect teacher based on your skill level, interests, and goals.

This blog post was written by Megan Tully, Marketing Manager.

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