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How TV Can Teach You a Language

October 5, 2022
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by Billy-Mai Brooks

While learning a language in the modern day and age, each of us has traveled a similar journey.

You’ve likely ventured deep into the depths of the lands of YouTube, Duolingo, free online courses, and translating memes that your Instagram algorithm has picked up. 

If you’re serious about practicing what you’ve learned, then you’ve even spent hours scrolling through websites that connect you with random online tutors, clicking on pictures and profiles like it’s an educational Tinder, looking for someone who’s ‘professional but easygoing’ who offers cheap trial lessons and isn’t going to judge you on your terrible accent… 

But when these things get boring, you get inconsistent, resulting in none of it being enough to give you the fluency and comprehension skills that you’re striving for. So, what’s next?

I’m here to tell you that making progress in your target language is guaranteed when you learn with stories, including visual ones. In fact, the most underrated, surefire way to learn a language is by settling down, tuning in, and actively learning by watching TV and movies. What better way to stay entertained – and therefore focused – to learn everything that you need to, the way that you want to? 

And it’s not too good to be true. Many studies have proven the effectiveness of language learning by watching TV, including this study by Pavakanun and d’Ydewalle in 1992.

After examining the effects of vocabulary learning by watching a 12-minute cartoon, they found that a group of language learners who watched the show achieved higher scores on a multiple-choice test measuring recognition and meaning than the other group who only read the text. In fact, during various other tests, those students significantly outperformed the other group every time!

So, how can you do this too? Below are some reasons that explain how and why TV can help you learn a language.

Improves comprehension levels

Through body language, facial expressions, and cultural references, your ability to understand certain words and phrases dramatically increases by giving your vocab a visual framework to hang on to. 

Naturally and subconsciously, we begin to understand the meaning of things when they’re presented in the correct context, especially when it occurs over and over again. And it’s not just visually, but audibly too. ‘Gasps,’ music changes, and sound effects also raise your comprehension levels in a way that academic or text teaching just can’t give you. 

Children’s cartoon shows are a great place to start gaining this understanding, slowly moving on to sitcoms and then actions/thrillers, before eventually being able to understand the plots, narratives, and dialogue in complex dramas and genres that utilize dark humor or black comedy. (These are the most difficult to grasp because of the elaborate wordplay or deep connotations of certain words.)

Authentic accents and vocabulary usage

With TV shows and movies, you can hear what a language really sounds like outside of the classroom or your language teaching apps. Take these must-watch Netflix shows in Spanish as an example.

Instead of just being taught sentences like, “My horse walked over the newspapers” or “How much do three bananas and one cheese sandwich cost?”, TV and movies teach you more interesting and relevant vocabulary, like slang words and a bunch of other jargon that you can use on a daily basis with the people around you. 

woman eating popcorn from a bowl while holding a TV remote in the other hand

Learn a language by tuning in to your favorite show!
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

As well as this, in TV shows and movies,
the majority of actors are native, fluent speakers, exhibiting the correct intonation, sounds, and pace that you can expect from real people and real circumstances. 

In generic language-learning environments, everything is slowed down or pronounced very clearly for your benefit; but in reality, people won’t always do this for you. That’s why it’s important to become acquainted with the natural flow, accents, and speed of talking that occurs in native speaking.

Makes you fluent

Because of all of the above – listening to authentic native speakers, visually and audibly picking up contextual clues, and dedicating your time to productive learning situations – you’re more likely to become fluent quickly and successfully. 

Through focusing your time on what’s important, rather than repeating the same silly sentences, your ability to be fluent increases significantly. You download rich vocabulary into your subconscious mind and create a bridge of familiarity with common words and phrases that you can comprehend and repeat effortlessly.

But what strategies can you adopt to make the most out of the knowledge and education that TV can give you? Well, there’s an awesome platform I want to introduce you to, called Lingopie, which gives you all the tools you need to make the most out of the following TV studying techniques.

Lingopie is a multilingual streaming platform that’s been described by fans as the ‘Netflix of language learning’ with an educational method they call ‘binge-learning.’ It offers thousands of episodes and movies in 9 popular languages, as well as providing educational tools throughout the site to help you continue developing your listening, speaking, and comprehension skills.

Rewinding and repeating a sentence

Develop your listening and reading skills by rewinding a sentence and hearing it again. This will gradually embed everything you need to know into your mind. Lingopie gives you the option to loop a sentence. It also offers an innovative dual-subtitle feature which provides you with subtitles in your language as well as the original language of the show, which can both be displayed on the bottom of the screen at the same time.

Pausing and copying what you hear

When you hear a phrase that you haven’t heard before or want to learn off by heart, you can press pause on the show and develop your speaking skills by copying what you hear out loud. The pronunciation, the inflections, the accents – use your voice to sound like theirs. 

Plus, if you write it down, you’re way more likely to remember it whilst training your brain to focus better. 

You can use Lingopie’s super interactive Say-It tool, which allows you to work on your pronunciation whilst you watch the show. Just click the microphone icon in the bottom right-hand corner, record yourself saying the chosen phrase. Lingopie will give you a score out of 100 and let you listen back to what you said to see how you can improve!

Testing yourself

One of the most innovative tools that Lingopie provides is an interactive subtitles feature. It gives you the ability to click any word or phrase from the script, which Lingopie automatically saves onto its flashcards system, storing everything you’ve learned, so that you can access it later via the ‘Review and Practice’ page. 

You can test yourself with games and quizzes whenever you finish an episode and want to test yourself on what you’ve learned.

So, if you want to improve your comprehension levels, be introduced to authentic accents, and really give yourself the opportunity to be fluent, then it’s time to buckle up and pay attention to a TV show that you love in the language that you want to learn. Lingopie offers a 7-day free trial period and often has deals available, so you can sign up whenever you feel the need to finally give yourself the education you deserve!

  • language learning
  • Netflix shows
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