How To Use Movies To Learn a Language


Greetings, Polyglots! I’m back with another post about how to use movies to learn languages!

I’ve noticed a trend among language learners. Especially among those learning English. Those who spoke English the most natural and fluently have all said that they frequently use movies to learn English. I’m telling you, it’s uncanny! I’ve taught English in three countries and in every country the most standout students have always said that they watched videos and movies for idioms and phrases. The result was almost always natural and fluent sounding English. So I began to wonder do movies work to help you learn a language and how do you watch a movie to learn a language anyway!? Movies are like an hour to two hours long! I don’t have the patience for that.

Movies can, however, help you learn languages in a more natural and casual way. Depending on the genre of the movie, you can learn some interesting vocabulary as well. Movies and television shows are very important for language learning, because they not only teach proper use of grammar and vocabulary, they also introduce you to the humor and culture of the people who’s language you’re studying. After only one or two weeks using movies learning Chinese, my casual Chinese has certainly improved and I have learned a few funny phrases to keep things light too. So how do you use movies to learn languages? Here’s how:

Selecting a Movie

When choosing a movie, it’s important to know where your level is. You should be able to understand at least 50% of the movie. Why? Because otherwise you will almost never get through movie and it will be frustrating and want to quit after the first hour of just trying to get through the first 5 minutes of the film!! To see how much you can understand, watch the first 20 minutes or so. If you can understand around fifty to sixty percent of what’s being said, then perfect! In other words, you should be able to understand moooost of what’s going on but miss words and phrases here and there. Also, pick a move with your target language’s subtitles just so that if you aren’t sure what someone said, you can just look at the subtitles.


Watch in Segments

Do not. I repeat. Do not watch the whole film at once and try to pick out words and grammar as you go. Watch the movie in five or ten minute segments (depending on what you’re comfortable with) and take about the words and grammar in each five to ten minute segment. It will help you so that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Also make sure to only study your movie one hour a day.


How To Study The Vocabulary

Ideally, you’ll want to find a movie with your target languages subtitles. So if there is a word you don’t recognize, you can just stick it in the dictionary. With all the new words you encounter, write it down in a notebook and study. Try to find other example sentences, then listen to the audio of the word then repeat it.

For every sentence you learn, you must repeat it OUT LOUD after the speaker. So after ten minutes, you will have read aloud ten minutes worth of dialogue. Why do you need to do this? To get used to speaking naturally! Make flashcards for your vocabulary to help you remember them.

Re-Watch the Movie

Once you’ve gone through and studied all the vocabulary, re-watch the movie. You can try it with or without subtitles. You re-watch the movie this time without stopping it to look up words. You also do not need to repeat after the speakers, unless you want to.


Ask For Help If You Don’t Understand

Ask for help with the cultural points and jokes with your tutors, teachers or any native speakers. You can use iTalki to ask native speakers about whatever you don’t understand in the movie.


Review Vocabulary

After watching the movie, make sure to study the words you learned just like any other vocabulary list. You can make lists on Memrise or you can use Cram or Study Blue.



Take as long as you need when you are first watching the movie to learn all the vocabulary and grammar. I suggest taking at least 3 to 4 days to watch the whole thing. Taking it one segment at a time sounds daunting, but if it’s what it takes to learn the language then so be it! It will be worth it to understand a whole movie and learn some really cool vocabulary.


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