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Can you learn a second language by watching films?

With the 2018 Academy Award celebrations fresh in our minds, let us turn our attention to “Best Foreign Language Film” category. Chilean drama “A Fantastic Woman” won the 2018 Academy Award and marks the first ever win for Sebastián Lelio (Director). Past winners include popular films such as Life is Beautiful (1998), All About My Mother (1999), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and The Salesman (2016).

Watching foreign films like A Fantastic Woman gives a great insight into the cultural nuances of different countries and they are a very important tool allowing you to experience the dialects, humour, slang and emotion of your target language. You will witness authentic language used in real situations. It begs the question…can you actually learn a second language through the medium of film?

Well it depends on what level you are at in your learning journey. For example, for a Beginner, you will probably not understand much of the foreign film…if any! … and you will not be able to effectively pick up the basics. However, you can watch films in your target language with subtitles and just put your feet up, relax and soak in the language and culture. Even if you are at an intermediate level you will still not understand a lot but watching foreign films is a useful way to familiarise yourself with the rhythm, pronunciation and accents of your target language. You might even recognise some words! Yay! The best thing is to watch with subtitles but try to tune in to the language too.


‘A Fantastic Woman’ star Daniela Vega

If you are more advanced, relatively fluent and you want to expand your vocabulary and improve your understanding of different accents and dialects then films are a great medium. You should try watching without subtitles, noting down any words or phrases that you need to look up later. Another great option is to watch one of your favourite English films dubbed into your target language. You will have the advantage of already knowing the story and you will be motivated because it is a film you know you enjoy. If the prospect of watching a whole film in your target language is very daunting then why not try some short films or a TV series in your target language? You should also consider listening to music in your target language.

So how should you use films to enhance your language learning journey? Here are 7 tips:

  1. Watch a genre you know you enjoy
  2. Watch a film you have already seen and enjoyed in English that has been dubbed into your target language
  3. Watch more than once to familiarise yourself with the language used
  4. Don’t struggle, use subtitles
  5. Engage with the storyline. Try to repeat phrases you understand and ask yourself questions about what is happening now and what was just said
  6. Don’t stop and start the film to look up words you don’t understand. Note them down and look them up at the end.
  7. Use it as part of a blended learning programme. Try other learning media such as text books, listening activities, watching tv programmes or YouTube videos and speaking with a fellow student or native speaker.

So if you want to find some popular films in your target language use popular search engines, Netflix and YouTube as a starting point. But most importantly – enjoy!

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