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Learn a Language Watching Television and Movies

By Edited Jul 13, 2016 1 0

Learning a Language:

Easy as Watching TV

Use Your TV to Learn a Language
Learning a language watching television is fun even if you have never taken a language class.  You become a language scientist discovering meanings of words, phrases, all from the actions of people on the screen. Watching television shows and movies made in the country of the language you are learning, and hearing people speak their own language with their own accent in these shows, helps you recognize, and eventually use new words and phrases in this language.

Taking a class along with watching TV, will make learning the language faster, by decoding it a bit. But you might surprise yourself at how much you can learn form the movies and shows alone.

What You'll Need

Get at least one television show or movie in the language you want to learn. It's important to have a show or movie made in the country the language is spoken and not a translation of a movie originally in your language. So if your first language is English, and you want to learn Spanish, don't choose a Spanish translation of the Pirates of the Caribbean to learn Spanish from. The cultural context and phrasing is English and not necessarily Spanish. 

Perhaps a drama made in Mexico would be a better choice. Okay, I'm not saying these dramas are an accurate portrayal of culture, but no show is absolutely. My point is that a show made in the country of the language you are learning will have the phrasing of say, Spanish, instead of American English.

In the case of Spanish, you might also consider whether you want to learn the Spanish spoken in in Mexico or Spain before you chose your show. Just as the English spoken in the United States is different from the English spoken in Britain, so too other languages may have a different set of vocabulary and accent depending on the country it is spoken in. These may vary even more than American English and British English.  So it does make a difference where the show you are watching is made.

What do You Like to Watch?

Find shows that are entertaining even when you don't understand what's being said. Shows that are funny or interesting to you personally motivates you to pay attention and persist in trying to understand what is said. 

Find a Class for Explanations

If you are not sure that certain words you are learning are right for you to use, ask a teacher. Having a teacher guiding you to use socially appropriate vocabulary and phrases can save time and embarrassment. A teacher can also make suggestions of shows you might like along with vocabulary that might be useful too.

Noticing Unspoken Language

Often if we don't understand what the actors are saying, we focus on their actions. We may notice the background, habits, facial expressions, and body language of the actors much more than if we were watching a show in English. All these give us clues as to the meaning of phrases and dialogues we are hearing and in what kind of situations they might be used. We see cultural differences that we take for granted in our everyday life.

These skills of noticing the situations and collecting clues will come in handy when you do visit the country that people speak your new language in.  You may feel more comfortable trying to communicate with people in your new language since you are already used to noticing unspoken language.

Collecting New Words

Record new words you hear again and again in a notebook. Spell them the best you can. Even if you don't know the rules of spelling in your new language, working to logically figure out the spelling, and then researching to discover the correct spelling will help you remember the new words.

Making Sense of New Words

Look up the meanings in a translation dictionary, and write them down. Write the meaning of the new words in both your language and the language you are learning if possible.

Listen for the new words while watching the television shows.

Write down the sentences you hear the new words used in. Again, do your best to get the context of the new vocabulary. Here's where a DVD or device to record the show comes in handy to rewind the show if necessary. Chances are you won't understand all the words in the sentences you write; even so, trying to write the sentence will help you become familiar with which words are used together. It will help you focus on your new language and help you make sense of it. 

Notice if the new words are used between people who know each other well or if they are used in more formal or business situations. Noticing the context can give you clues as to whether the vocabulary is something valuable for you to remember and use. If the scene is of a business meeting, it may be helpful for business terms. If the show is very old, the vocabulary may be old too. Try to find a show made this year or at least in the last five years.

What's in the Use of a Word?

Tone of Voice, Emotional Emphasis, Situation: These all can Change the Meaning

Take note of the speaker's emotions and tone of voice. Notice if the new words change meaning depending on how they are said. Did the speaker say them in anger, or did the speaker say them sarcastically. These are difficult to recognize and often unrecognizable in a language you are learning. Another question to ask yourself is how the listener is if the listener reacts similar to how you would? Is any difference revealing a cultural difference? Is the speaker sarcastic? Sarcasm is often difficult to recognize in a new language.

Use subtitles in your new language to clarify the spelling of the new words you hear.  Then sometimes turn the subtitles off and just enjoy listening and figuring out what is being said with out concentrating on the subtitles.

More than a Language:

A Culture

Studying a language makes us a sort of anthropologist, archaeologist,  a scientist, and an analyst. We watch people and how they use the words, we dig into sentences and meanings brushing off what we do not understand and focusing on what we do.  We experiment with our new vocabulary, and we analyze phrases and sentences and how they go together. We test our observations to see if our hypothesis is true with a number of experiments.  Finally we break the words and sentences and contexts apart to analyze what is being said and why. We are especially attuned to unspoken communication and to the situation and supposed formality of the because a language is so much more than just words.

A language brings with it culture, a unique way of looking at the world. Shows and Movies, though, are not reality. They may give indications of a culture, but when we watch a show made in another country and in another language, it is important to remember that it will not exactly reflect the culture because it was made for entertainment. At the same time, we may be able to get a glimpse into another system of explaining the world by asking ourselves how it is entertaining and for whom is it entertaining? Remember the context of entertainment and sensationalism, and most of all, have fun.



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