Tips and Tricks for Learning Languages: Part 1 – Watching TV and movies

As someone who has been learning languages since a very young age and who is currently studying four languages at university I’d share some of my tips and tricks for language learning! This is the first post!

Watch TV shows or movies in the languages you’re trying to learning can be a great help in cement and building your knowledge, not matter what stage of language learning you’re at.

The reason why watching TV or films can be so useful is because it’s something you’re used to doing, it doesn’t feel unnatural and so it’s not hard to fit into your daily or weekly routine. If you usually watch a couple of hours of TV in an evening, why not make one of those hours in a new language. Before you know, the new show you’re addicted to, or binge watching is in Spanish or French! This has been the case with my family and Money Heist – we didn’t even realise it was a Spanish show when we started it and now we’ve watched the first two parts in under two weeks! And I’ve learnt more vocab that I ever expected to, without even planning on it!

When it comes to watching TV or movies, you have a few different options for how to this, dependant on where you’re at in your language learning:

  • You can watch in the language you’re trying to learn, with English subtitles (great for learning more about pronunciation and sentence structure). The only downfall of this is you can easily get sucked into just reading the subtitles and barely listening to the language.
  • Another option is to watch it dubbed over in English but with the subtitles in the language you’re trying to learn. I find this to be really helpful for learning vocab as you can easily make notes of the new words you find. This is also obviously the best option if you’re watching TV with other people – it’s what I’m currently doing as I watch Money Heist with my family.
  • The final option is to watch it in the language you’re learning and with subtitles in that same language. Obviously you have to have a decent knowledge of the language or you won’t have a clue what’s going on. But if you already know a fair bit, being able to both hear and read words can be super helpful!

Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to watch, then next step is to figure out what you’re going to watch. Obviously it depends on what language you want to learn but I thought I’d share some of my recommendations of movies and shows in the languages I learnt!

Some TV shows I recommend are:

  • The Resistance (French, found on Walter Presents, Channel Four Player) I’ve watched this series three times now now and it makes me sob every time! It’s roughly based on true stories and tells the story of a group of French people fighting against the German Occupation of France! 10/10, I’d definitely recommend!
  • Money Heist – La Casa de Papel (Spanish, found on UK Netflix) I haven’t finished this yet but as I said, I’ve been watching it with my family. It’s a bit graphic at times but generally very clever! Although I warn you, we’ve definitely shouted at the TV a few times. 8.5/10, if clever action is your thing, go for it!
  • Cable Girls – Las Chicas del Cable (Spanish, found on UK Netflix) I must admit I started watching this ages ago and then stopped when life got busy but I remember really enjoying the 20s vibe and all the female characters!
  • Elite (Spanish, found on UK Netflix) Again, I have yet to finish this series, but it has some interesting characters and an interesting premise. When three working-class teenagers begin attending an exclusive private school in Spain, there’s much drama and even a murder mystery style vibe!

Some movies I recommend:

  • Les Intouchables (French) A really lovely story of the friendship between an aristocrat who became quadriplegic from a paragliding accident and a young man from the projects who is his new caregiver.
  • Les Choristes (French) A heartwarming tale of a new teacher at a harsh boys’ boarding school works to bring some joy into their lives through music. I watched this at least three times during my school career.
  • La Haine (French) A fascinating look into some of the sociopolitical issues in 24 hours in the lives of three young men in the French suburbs the day after a violent riot.
  • Au Revoir les enfants (French) A heartwarming story of the friendship of two boys, in a Catholic school hiding Jews during the German Occupation of France.
  • Amelie (French) This film is very odd but very French – a quirky rom com about a girl called Amelie trying to positively influence people around her
  • Palm Trees in the Snow (Spanish) – a story told over two continents and two time periods, as a Spanish woman goes on a journey to discover her family’s past in Africa.
  • El Laberinto del Fauno (Spanish) I studied this for A level so that kind of sucked the joy of it but I do actually enjoy this film – an interesting mix of the historical and fantastical genres.
  • Leviathan (Russian) This film is definitely a bit depressing but actually an interesting insight into significant (and not very cheery) parts of Russian life.
  • Russian Ark (Russian) I’m gonna be honest, this is a weird film but it is a great look at the Hermitage and is very cleverly shot in one take!
  • Queen of Spades – Pikovaya Dama (Russian) Admittedly a somewhat odd choice as the film recites every single word from the book! But it’s a good way of reading some of Pushkin’s famous literature.

Personally I prefer TV shows to movies when it comes to foreign language media because I find it easier to dip in and out and means I have to choose what to watch less often, as there’s usually a couple of series. But both TV and film are a great way to improve your language skills in a manner that’s both easy and enjoyable!

As for where to access the films and TV, I have a few suggestions:

  • Netflix might seem like an obvious shout but it’s actually a real good place to find foreign language TV shows – especially in Spanish, not so much French or Russian. You can look in the International film section or just look online for lists of shows in whichever language you want. Initially it might be dubbed over in English but you can easily change it back to the original language.
  • Walter Presents, as a part of Channel Four player has a great selection of TV shows – particularly European shows and a lot of Scandi Noir if that’s what you’re into.
  • Lingopie is a service I’ve recently discovered that allows to watch TV shows in Spanish or Russian with an ability to create a vocab list to revise later by selecting words you don’t know from the subtitles. Admittedly it is quite expensive, bearing in mind you could access some of these shows on other mediums such as Netflix. But if you really want to commit to upping your vocab game through TV watching then it’s a good shout.

I hope you’ve found this post useful and it helps you in your language learning! I’d love to hear all about your own language learning adventures!

What language are you trying to learn this lockdown?

What are some of your favourite foreign language TV shows or films?

14 comments

  1. Some very useful tips. I have certainly found it useful watching some English language films abroad as they have the subtitles in the language you’re learning which is very handy for learning the phrases currently used. Generally, I will watch French films with the French subtitles on which is good for learning to recognise pronunciation in the different regional accents and improves listening comprehension.

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  2. I’m currently trying to learn French via the MosaLingua app. I’m not great at pronunciation. I’ll definitely try some of your French movie suggestions. I have a copy of La Foire Aux Vanités by William Makepeace Thackeray (Vanity Fair) on my wishlist. I own a Kindle version. (I think the Kindle version will be better because of Google translate!)

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  3. This is a great idea I haven’t thought of before! What better way to learn that doing something you love like watching tv

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  4. Very useful tips and advice to learn new languages! I am currently learning Spanish using an android app but I will try looking at some Spanish movies. I am sure this will help me! Thanks

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  5. I’m learning French! Have been my whole life really, but taking it more seriously now that we are in isolation. I’ve seen two of the french films you’ve listed but will check out the others as well! Thank you for sharing.

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  6. I do this all the time and it has completely changed the way I learn. It’s so enjoyable too! Good luck with your language learning. My blog is all about my language journey 😊👍🏻

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