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March 2017

5 Movies Involving Language Learning that You Have to See

Films in which language learning is featured

Language learning is a great metaphor for the path we undertake to understand other people. Many films in the past have explored language barriers and the journeys humans must endure before coming together. Whether it’s two lovers from different parts of the world or understanding alien life forms, the ultimate goal is the same: if we are to truly connect with another being, we have to first be able to communicate.


Arrival is a recent multi-Oscar-nominated film about the, well, arrival of aliens upon Earth. Described as a science-fiction film for the thinker, it features very few explosions and no car chases. Instead, the story focuses on an expert linguist hired by the government to decipher the language of the aliens. Imagine a life form from another world with an atmosphere entirely unlike our own. How might they communicate? How would we even begin to interact with them? The film explores this process in a poignant way, set to the threat of potential global war.

L'Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment)

L'Auberge Espagnole is a French comedy featuring a variety of languages. The protagonist, Xavier, travels to Barcelona to participate in Erasmus, sharing an apartment with a diverse cast of characters from around Europe. Through their adventures, their relationships grow more complicated. Often it seems as if they are all from different worlds. In the end, they are joined by the international language of love.

Love Actually

Love Actually is the quintessential British romantic comedy, an arrangement of intertwined love stories (both good and bad) that ultimately come together in some form or another. One of these vignettes showcases English writer Jaime who falls in love with his Portuguese assistant Aurelia. Neither speaks the other’s language, which, in a romantic comedy, often yields hilarious results.


In a similar fashion to Arrival, Contact deals with alien contact on Earth and our subsequent need to communicate meaningfully to determine what they want. In this film adapted from the sci-fi legend Carl Sagan’s novel, the universal language is mathematics. Deciphering the message, a scientist with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is instructed to build a mysterious machine. What does it do? Watch the film and find out.

Lost in Translation

Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is a classic film about losing your place in the world. An older American actor is both linguistically and spiritually lost in the heart of Tokyo, an energetic city of vibrant lights and habits strange to Westerners. He meets a young girl who is also looking for profound experiences in life. They form a bond in an urban jungle that is foreign to them, in which they must learn not the language but rather the culture.

There are so many other films that feature languages and language barriers. Which is your favorite film and why? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on languages and culture!