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June 2013 | Frankfurt

How to use movies to learn a foreign language

Let’s face it: Relying on your textbook to increase fluency in a foreign language will only get you so far. Languages are more than just definitions and grammar; they’re flowing cultural memes propelled by voice. Fluency requires getting beyond that textbook and training your ears to absorb the sound of a language until understanding becomes a subconscious reflex.

Today’s tip for effective language learning involves watching movies in your target language.

Movies are an invaluable resource, especially if you don’t always have a language partner around ready to chat. They offer so much more than audio exercises. When watching foreign films, we learn more about the other country, their pop culture and their mannerisms. We are offered a chance to view a language in a living situation, with native speakers interacting with one another in an authentic way.

But how do you choose the right film?

If you’re just starting out, the dialogue in some movies may move too quickly for you. In this case, opt for a children’s movie. The dialogue will be more digestible and, if you’ve already seen it dubbed in your native language, you will already understand the context of the scenes. While it may seem silly at first, watching children’s movies is a great stepping stone to fluency, as they’re designed for easy comprehension.

When moving on to films for adults, choose a movie that seems interesting to you. The more involved you can be with a film, the more readily your mind will recall the scenes and dialogue. You’ll likely need to watch a film more than once, as a single viewing is hardly enough to absorb the dialogue thoroughly. Note: Watching classic films, while a great cultural lesson, may prove difficult for some learners, as the audio may not be as clear as in modern movies.

Subtitles are also an invaluable resource. It’s often difficult to make out what actors are saying, particularly when the dialogue is moving at a fast pace. Subtitles allow viewers to see exactly what the actors are saying. Watch your preferred film once with the subtitles on, and then turn them off on subsequent viewings so you don’t rely too much on them.

If your film doesn’t offer the text in the languages you want, check out these great websites offering free downloads of subtitles for a variety of movies and television shows: Subscene, Open Subtitles, Subtitles Bank, AnySubs, SubititlesWorld and You’ll surely find the subtitles in the language you want for your desired film via one of these resources.

As previously mentioned, movies will get you accustomed to the sound of your target language as natives speak it. Over time, you’ll find that native accent slowly influencing your speech. Phrases and grammar will stick out in your brain as you remember your favorite scenes from films (image association is a powerful thing). Even better, you’ll have something fun to talk about when you meet that next language partner of yours!

What are some of your favorite foreign films, and how have you used them to learn your target language?

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