4 Steps to Learn English through Movies

4 Steps to Learn English through Movies

How is it possible to learn English through movies? Well, when I was living in Barcelona and studying for my TEFL teaching certificate my Spanish was ok. Not terrible, but not great. I could understand conversations more or less, but only about half of what I watched on tv and almost nothing on the phone. It was frustrating and made me feel isolated.

I missed New York, so I decided to start training my eyes and ears to understand Spanish by watching Woody Allen movies. I was surprised how much it helped! Second to getting a Spanish boyfriend who spoke no English, learning by watching movies helped my vocabulary and listening skills a lot!


4 Steps to Learn English through Movies and TV

The ultimate goal, of course, is to be able to watch a program without subtitles. But before that can happen, you need to train your eyes and ears to recognize what you don’t understand in a more structured situation. Then, as your vocabulary and understanding build, you can use your English skills more independently. Here’s how I improved my reading, listening, vocabulary, and pronunciation by watching movies and tv. It worked for me. I hope it works for you!

Before you start

Whatever program you are watching to learn English through tv, make sure it has good translations. Videos on YouTube can sometimes be unreliable, but other channels like Netflix and HBO are very good quality.

I also suggest keeping a notebook of some kind to record all the new words and phrases you’ll be learning by watching movies and tv. As with all new vocabulary, the best and only way to remember is through repetition and use. I kept a notebook that I would read all the time. Maybe using Notes on your phone works for you. Whatever helps you have easy access to the new words so you can study is best.

Active learning is another important part of the process of learning English through watching movies and tv. It doesn’t matter what stage of learning you are in, you have to be actively reading and listening to make this work. Sitting back and just enjoying the show isn’t going to get you anywhere. You have to study the language, write down what you don’t understand, study that, watch another program, study that, etc. Your commitment to learning is important in your success.


The Plan

Step 1

For Beginner to Low Intermediate levels (A1-B1)

First, watch the programs in your native language with English subtitles. This seems strange, I know. But, as your ears are passively listening in your native language, your eyes are actively reading in English.

This helps your English reading skills because you can pause when you don’t understand the English, and you have the translation for you in your own language.

This is also a great exercise in building vocabulary, because new words are easily identified and translated for you. Don’t forget to keep a record of all those new words!

Step 2

For Low Intermediate to High Intermediate levels (B1-B2)

Here you reverse the situation. Now you can watch the program in English with subtitles in your native language. Your ears are actively working to understand the spoken English, but your eyes are passively reading in your native language.

Again, any new vocabulary that you hear that you don’t understand (since your ears are now active) you have translated for you in your native language.

At this step, you also have the benefit of having the pronunciation given to you. But be aware of the source of the program, the timeframe, and the accent. You can always check with an online dictionary or a teacher you trust if you have a doubt.



Step 3

For High Intermediate to Advanced (B2-C1)

This step is to watch the program in English with English subtitles. Not so easy to do at first, as you will feel the speed at which we really talk, as well as the lack of articulation. English is not an open language, which can make it so difficult to understand.

But in this exercise both your eyes and ears are active, so anything that you don’t understand that is spoken or written you have the option to pause and try to decipher.
Step 4

For Advanced to Proficient (C1-C2)

Eventually, with practice and confidence, you will learn to listen for the most important, or content, words and ignore the unimportant words. As native speakers we do it all the time. You probably do it in your native language, too! When you are able to master this skill in English, you have reached a clear level of fluency. I’m sure that learning English through watching movies and tv can help you get there!