Learning a language with TV shows (or movies) is one of the most fun ways to study.
It is also extremely effective!
Below, you can find lots of academic studies that prove it’s effectiveness, methods to learn a language by watching TV or movies, what makes a good option for learning and where to find some, as well as a few extra tips and tricks!
First, though, it is important to clarify something.
Can you completely (to a C1 level) learn a language just by watching TV or movies?
But can you learn quite a lot of words and phrases, improve all of your language skills (even grammar), and give yourself a great foundation to eventually get to C1?
The studies below, as well as many real-life examples, prove this.
So if you have found yourself here after searching “How to use Netflix to learn a language?”, “How to make language learning fun?” or something along those lines, you are in the right place. Keep reading to start today!
Studies On language learning With TV Shows or Movies:
The evidence is overwhelming.
Watching audio-visual media (like TV shows or movies) does help language learners learn their target language!
Ilya Mikheyev, a Russian ice hockey player for the Canadian Leafs says he learned English to be able to play on the Leafs by watching Friends!
Jürgen Klopp, a football (soccer) manager from Germany says he learned English from watching TV shows like Friends too!
There are so many real-life examples of people all around the world who used audio-visual media as a language learning tool to obtain a high level in their target language.
However, getting into official studies helps prove the measurable benefits of using TV shows or movies to help learn a language!
A study by Stuart Webb and Michael P.H Rogers titled “Vocabulary Demands of Television Programs” claims, “…if learners knew the most frequent 3,000 word families and they watched at least an hour of television a day, there is the potential for significant incidental vocabulary learning”.
Another study by Stuart Webb and Elke Peters in a journal titled “Studies in Second Language Acquisition” shows that vocab words can be learned incidentally (i.e passively) through watching audio-visual materials and “the findings showed that viewing TV resulted in incidental vocabulary learning at the level of meaning recall and meaning recognition”.
Yet another study showed a positive relationship between learners’ vocabulary knowledge and their exposure to non-subtitled media.
One more study shows pronunciation benefits from watching media, this study shows a increase in vocab and grammar knowledge from watching captioned media, and this one shows that several knowledge aspects of formulaic sequences (AKA phrases, idioms, sentences, etc in a language) can be learned from watching TV or movies.
And this is just a small portion of all of the evidence showing that language learning with Netflix, language learning with Disney+, Youtube, Amazon, etc., really does work.
So now that we all know it can truly help (and now that any naysayers are hopefully converted!), let’s talk about how to learn best with this method!
How to Learn a Language with TV:
As shown in the studies above, there are lots of different ways you can go about this.
The best method is the one that fits best into your lifestyle and the one you enjoy most.
Watching media should be enjoyable! Choose a show that interests you and then add as many of these specific methods as you desire:
You can take notes on phrases you are hearing often (lots of shows repeat certain phrases a lot!), on vocab you don’t recognize (or, instead, on vocab you do recognize and recently learned), interesting grammar notes, etc.
Write everything down so you can go back later and study it in-depth.
For vocab and phrases, you can enter them into an app or site like Memrise (my favorite for language learners) to create flashcards to help you memorize them for next time. Using spaced repetition and flashcards is a surefire way to learn very efficiently!
(P.S – you can also even take cultural notes, if you are watching a reality TV show (ideally a not so ‘trashy’ one, haha), documentary, or something that is very authentic to everyday life in countries that speak your target language! This is a great and fun benefit)
Watch with subtitles / captions:
Ideally, you will want to watch any show or movie you watch with subtitles in the same language spoken.
So if you are a native Spanish speaker and want to learn Korean, try watching a K-drama with Korean subtitles, rather than Spanish subtitles. Of course, this will reduce comprehension greatly, unless you are already at an intermediate level.
Therefore, this method works best for those who already have a good grasp on the language.
If you do have a good grasp, though, this method will immensely improve your ear for the language, as well as vocab, grammar, pronunciation, overall fluency, etc.
Reading what is being spoken will especially help you see a particular word or phrase and learn how it is spoken. You will learn specific pronunciation features like pitch, intonation, and inflection. This is extremely helpful and necessary for those who wish to sound fluent one day!
If you can manage, watching at least 1 hour per day will help you greatly!
The more you surround yourself with the language, though, the more it will become a part of you.
Combine watching TV or movies with listening to music, podcasts – anything you can get your hands on! This will give you the best chance at picking up your target language.
If you don’t have anyone watching with you that you might disturb, speak out loud! Or, even if you do, annoy them a bit for the sake of learning, haha.
If you hear a word you know, mimic how it was said in the show. If you hear a word you don’t know, mimic how it was said in the show!
Mimic everything you can clearly hear!
Mimicry is a key part of eventually speaking fluently. It will help you master pronunciation and it will make a passive activity (like learning a language with TV) a bit more active.
Focus on what you want to achieve:
Do you want to improve your vocab, most of all? Listen hard for new or recently learned words and phrases! Maybe combine this method with taking notes and making flashcards of those notes, as well.
Do you want to improve grammar? Concentrate on sentence structure. Combine this with the method of watching with the language’s subtitles to also read the way the sentences are written.
Do you want to improve pronunciation? Focus on how things are said. What inflections do you hear based on the emotions or setting? What about mumbled words, pitch, etc? Combine this with the mimicry method, for the best chance at improving your pronunciation!
Pick a goal you want to achieve in watching this show or movie and then pour your energy into that.
What TV shows are best for Language Learning?
Now that we have the confidence that this type of learning works, and now that we have some methods we can use, it is time to dive right in!
Finding a suitable TV show or movie can make or break your study plan.
If you pick media that is extremely complicated and does not use everyday vocabulary, you will have a much harder time reaping the benefits of language learning with TV or movies than someone who picked an easier show or movie that uses everyday vocab.
For example, watching an anime about space exploration might not be as useful for you, as an earth-bound language learner, as an anime about university life would be.
While the anime about students might not be as fun (but I bet you, it probably is!), that one will teach you more useful vocabulary, in general.
That is not to say you should never have fun and watch a weird, complicated, or unique show! Not at all.
You certainly should!
I would just recommend focusing more on “everyday” shows and movies, at least in the beginning.
Audio-visual media that will be most beneficial as a language learner is:
- Clear and easy to understand
- “Everyday” situations
If you pick a show that hits all of these points, it will be a great choice to help you learn a language!
Reality or variety TV shows are particularly great for language learners as you will hear the language as it is truly spoken! You can also pick up some unique cultural aspects that will often be missing or heavily dramatized in fictional shows.
As mentioned, though, have fun! Pick a wacky, fictional show every once in a while.
If you love space exploration and fantasy themes, then learning some vocab related to this topic would likely benefit your life anyway! We tend to talk about and surround ourselves with what we love. Therefore, any vocab you learn from a fantasy show can very likely be used often in real-life if you are passionate about the genre!
Overall though, the best way to decide which specific show is best for you is to just start. Test a show out and switch if you aren’t feeling it. The good news is that there are millions of shows to pick from and millions more being made!
For some specific ideas: Towards Data Science did some amazing and in-depth studies that found that The Simpsons is the best show to learn English with (due to its advanced vocabulary and repetition of said vocab) and that Jinn (Arabic) is the overall best show to learn a foreign language with (they talk about many shows in the study, as well!).
Where to Find Good TV shows:
You can find awesome shows on tons of different sites! The best place for you largely depends on the language you wish to learn.
I personally believe that the best media is one that was created in the language you wish to learn, but sometimes it is slim pickings. If you cant find much or have already watched everything you could find, then a good dub (voice-over) in the language you wish to learn is fine!
Learning a language with Netflix or learning a language with Disney+ is likely the easiest way, as they have so many options, but it can still be tricky to find certain languages. More unique or lesser spoken languages are often not available.
Here are some great places to check out:
– Netflix – the one we all know and love. Netflix has a huge variety of shows and is constantly adding more. You can search for the language you wish to learn, or you can use a VPN service to change to a country that speaks your target language! Using a VPN will give the best results, but it is not always easy or free.
– Disney+ – another top option. Disney has tons of shows and movies and they do an amazing job of dubbing and subbing them in tons of languages! Generally, they offer many more subbing and dubbing options than Netflix or other streaming services.
– Viki – a must-visit if you are learning any Asian languages. Viki is filled with tons of TV shows and movies from most Asian countries – all for free!
– YouTube – yet another resource we all know and love. You can find so many videos (and even shows and movies!) on YouTube in any language. This is the best resource for lesser spoken languages. Check out this post about 400+ YouTube language channels in over 50 languages to find some inspiration!
– Amazon – you can find some good shows here, if you have Amazon Prime! They also have tons of media for purchase or rent. I have purchased some great TV shows in several languages from Amazon!
– Ted – TedTalks are offered in a wide array of languages – all with subtitles! You can find short or long videos on tons of different topics.
Tips & Tricks:
Combine with a good study method.
Learning a language with TV shows or movies works spectacularly with animedoro!
Combining watching TV to learn a language and an active study method will give you the best results.
For example, if you are watching an anime in Japanese, learning new words on a vocab learning website will help you immediately and immensely in understanding the show! This will, in turn, help you learn even more from the show.
If you are watching a K-drama, working your way through some TTMIK modules will certainly help improve your skills and allow you to also gain more from watching dramas.
Whatever active study you do on the side will improve your passive study. They work off of each other!
Remember to enjoy it. Do not strive for perfection or immediate results.
You are not going to remember everything you hear and you are also not going to even understand everything you hear! That is not the point of this language learning method.
The point is to enjoy your learning and improve your language levels with time.
This is not a quick language learning method. You will not improve overnight. If you are looking to learn quickly, it is best to get a tutor and/or actively study.
You should be actively studying to learn a language in any case, but it should be your #1 focus if you want to learn quickly.
However, if you are okay with learning at an average pace and having a bit more fun with it (or if you are just looking for a relaxing way to still learn in your free time) learning with TV shows or movies is perfect!
Remember to relax and enjoy what you are watching and if you don’t enjoy it – swap shows! If you find something you love and look forward to watching, you will learn quicker than ever before.
And even if the show flies over your head and you understand diddly squat, it is still better than nothing! You will get it one day.
Mix it up.
When I began learning Spanish, I watched a LOT of Mexican telenovelas. In fact, in the beginning, it was really the only thing I watched!
When I would speak, I would speak with the dramatic flair and specific vocab of a Mexican telenovela.
In hindsight, I should have mixed it up more, haha.
It is best to watch not just one type of show on repeat. Try to watch some dramas, as well as some comedies. Some thriller movies, as well as some documentaries.
You will start to sound like what you listen to, if you listen often enough!
So unless you want to sound a very specific way and have a highly specialized vocab (if you do, more power to you!) – try to shake things up and branch out every so often. Aim for a generalized smattering of learning material!
I hope you enjoy these tips and you go out and learn lots today! Most of all though, I hope you have fun learning.
Let me know in the comments below what your favorite TV show is!
Mine is either ‘Parks and Recreation’ (English) or ‘City Hunter’ (Korean) 🙂
Don’t forget to check out my language learning printables on Etsy! 🙂
- The 20 Best Products on Amazon for Korean Learners!
- Why You NEED A Kindle for Language Learning! [Tips + Tricks]
- 50 Amazing Quotes About Language Learning [With Phone Wallpapers!]
- The 25 Greatest Foreign Language Products on Amazon!
- Spanish Reflexive Verbs: a Simple How to Guide!
Let’s be friends! 🙂