Learn English with movies

Chris Parker
If you’re trying to improve your English language skills, here are some tips on how to use movies to your benefit
movies multi-screen

Watching movies at home—whether they’re on Netflix, YouTube, or DVD—is one of the most common ways that ESL learners are learning English today. While some films may be better suited than others for showcasing the English language, you have a wide variety of genres to choose from, and—depending on the setting and characters—you even have your choice of what types of English accents you’d like to study.

Benefits of learning English with movies

  • English is learned through both audio and visual experiences
  • Words and phrases are used in contexts similar to real life
  • Many genres are available to match your interests and motivate
  • Differences between regional accents are demonstrated

Techniques

1. Start with subtitles in your native language

When watching movies, there’s often an option to turn on subtitles and choose different languages. When this option is available, you should first watch the movie with your native language subtitles turned on, which allows you to understand what’s being said because you can listen to the characters speaking English while seeing the words translated into your own language.

Although you won’t remember the meaning of every single word initially, when watching the movie a second time, you’ll understand some of what’s being said, and you can then turn on the English subtitles to see how these words are spelled.

2. Focus on high-frequency words at first

With so many new words being introduced to you while watching movies, it can be a bit overwhelming if you’re trying to make sense of every single word that you hear. Rather than focusing your attention on every word, you should draw your attention only to high-frequency words at first until you have a better understanding of what’s being said.

In movies, some words are used more frequently than others, and you can slowly build your English vocabulary by focusing on these more commonly used words first. After you understand their meanings and how they’re used, then you can begin to focus your attention on words that are used less frequently.

3. Practice with repetition by using timestamps

Learning any language requires repetition, so whenever you come across new vocabulary words or phrases in a movie that you’d like to learn and remember, you should return to them and expose yourself to them repeatedly until they sink in.

One of the best ways to improve your pronunciation of new words is by writing down these words as you hear them in movies while making a notation next to each word with the exact point in the movie where you heard the word. For example, if you heard a target word at 35 minutes and 20 seconds into the film, you would simply write this down as a timestamp next to the word (e.g. 35:20).

Once you have a list of all the words and phrases you’d like to practice with, then you can go down the list saying each word aloud to see if you can remember how to pronounce them correctly. To ensure that you’ve said each word correctly, you can then skip to each point in the movie where the word was said to verify.

4. Discuss movies with native English speakers

One of the best things about learning English with movies is that there are millions of native English speakers online who are interested in movies and with whom you can interact. There are many forums, chatrooms, and online communities for movie fans, so after watching movies you can then practice your English skills by discussing them with others.

If you’re unsure about the meaning of a word or phrase that’s used in a movie because of the context in which you’ve heard it, you can ask others online about it, and many Native English-speaking movie enthusiasts will be eager to answer and discuss this with you.

Quick tip: refer to scripts when subtitles aren’t available

While using subtitles can be a great way to learn how to spell English words that you’ve heard in movies by seeing them on screen, this option isn’t always available when it comes to online movies, depending on what platform you’re using or how it was uploaded. When no subtitles are available, you can instead use movie scripts, which are often available online for free, to follow along with the words. 


Parting advice: explore beyond your interests

Lastly, you should always explore different things beyond your interests when it comes to learning with multimedia. An interest in movies set in the United States won’t expose you to British accents, and an interest in European-based movies won’t show you how Australians talk.

Accents can differ between actors and the characters they play, as can vocabulary words and how they’re spelled in different English-speaking countries. So never be afraid to explore new genres or styles when it comes to movies.

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Written by Chris Parker for EnglishClub.com
Chris has been studying linguistics academically for several years and has taught ESL in both primary and secondary schools.
© EnglishClub.com

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