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August 2016

Learning a New Language Through Acting

How to act your way to dramatic language improvement

One of the most common answers to the question “What are some good language learning strategies?” is to watch movies. There are compelling reasons why watching movies help: they provide dialogue at native speaker speeds, you get a sense of vernacular, and they display a bit of the target language’s culture. But watching films alone will not help much as it’s easy to forget what you’ve learned without diving deeper into them. The solution, therefore, is to take a “dramatic” interactive approach.

Find a film that you really like in your target language

First, find a film you find compelling enough to watch several times. Ideally, you’ll want to find a movie that’s light on regional accents and set in contemporary times. If you’re studying Italian, for example, a movie set in Sicily won’t help much if you’re learning standard Italian. Additionally, modern films tend to be easier to listen to than older films, due to the improved fidelity of the audio.

Locate the script online

This may be harder for more obscure movies (and many foreign films are naturally “obscure”), but the power of the Internet is great, and you’ll be surprised how many scripts you can find for films most people haven’t heard of. If a script isn’t available, search for the subtitles of the film instead. Subtitles normally provide the dialogue in .srt format, one easily converted to text. Some light formatting in word processing software can make the text printer friendly.

Watch the movie with the script in small sections

After your initial viewing, go through the film with your script in hand, but don’t tackle the whole thing at once. Make your endeavor more manageable by watching the movie with the script in small sections. Pay attention to how the speakers gesticulate, as well as the musicality of their speech. When you’re done watching each section, use the script and act out the scenes as the actors did on screen, playing the various roles as if you were the performers themselves. Imagine you are in their settings and feeling their feelings. Memorize as many lines as you can and act in front of the mirror as if you were rehearsing for an audition.

By the time you finish slowly going through the film, your vocabulary and speaking ability should increase substantially. Movies are great for learning common sayings that will help greatly when visiting your target language’s country or speaking with a native. Just be careful not to ham it up when you’re talking in real life!

If you can: find a native speaker and discuss the film

If you happen to know a native speaker of your target language, take them out for coffee/drinks and discuss the film you just watched. Nothing is better for language learning than discussing how something made you feel and why. Tell them the plot, go over the characters, and let them know whether you recommend the film and why. Request that your friend help you by correcting your errors (making mistakes is great for learning!), and mark your errors down so you don’t commit them again.

Do you use movies to learn a new language? What techniques have worked for you? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more language learning articles!