One of the most effective ways to improve your English— or any language that you are learning– is to visit or live in another country. Right?
But what if you can’t do that? Most people are not in a situation where they can just drop everything and move abroad. And for those who would like to learn a second language while living in their home country often take English lessons, only to realize that their improvement is very slow going. So, how can you improve your English more quickly and more easily?
Many students have a hard time believing that listening is the most effective way to learn a language. This is one of the reasons why immersion works, but it is also the way infants learn to speak their native language. Hearing the repetition of words and phrases helps our brain understand the sounds and pronunciation, even if we don’t understand the meaning, and this is a crucial step in language acquisition.
As infants, we spend the first two years of our lives only listening– mostly to our parents, to caregivers, family members, friends and, of course, the television. We then spend the next couple of years repeating what we hear, and learning to express ourselves. Finally, once we begin school, well after we have mastered speaking our language, we begin to learn about spelling and grammar for the first time. You can see that learning a language in a classroom does not follow this natural process– in fact it is often the exact opposite! It’s up to you to change that!
But, if listening is key to learning a second language, how and where can we do it? Where can we hear native speakers, talking about common topics, using correct English? You won’t believe the answer: right in your own living room!
That’s right. Watching films and television series is one of the most effective ways to improve your English. Many students find this hard to believe, because they are tied to the antiquated ways of learning: memorization, grammar and humiliation! The truth is, many students are forced to speak in English in class before they are ready to do so. And until we have listened to a lot of English, we will never be comfortable speaking. Watching films and series in English is the closest thing we can have to total immersion in a language!
Watching films and series improves our English because:
It is fun! It is widely agreed among educators that learning happens more easily when the learner is having fun. Watching videos is a passive activity, but you don’t realize that your brain is absorbing information. The combination of video, audio and even subtitles stimulates all our learning sensors at the same time, but we don’t even realize it because we are absorbed in the film!
It is real! Movies and series are made for native speakers, and therefore use common expressions, idioms, phrasal verbs and vocabulary that are very difficult to learn in schools because they only happen during real spoken conversation. Watching videos, you will hear the most common of these expressions and words repeated in different contexts, helping memorization and understanding.
It’s interesting! Movies and series give us cultural information. You can watch videos that take place in a country that interests you, such as Australia, or Ireland. The realism portrayed in the films give us clues about the culture and the language. Learning about the culture that is linked to a language is important for understanding many expressions and the etiquette involved in language.
Repetition! The more we hear something repeated, the more easily we can remember it and repeat it ourselves. But this is not only for expanding vocabulary– repetition is useful for very important things such as pronunciation, word stress, timing, and listening comprehension. But, more importantly, our brains automatically improvewith grammar usage the more we hear correct English spoken. And the best part is, you can watch a film or video over and over again!
Ok, have I convinced you? Are you ready to go home and watch a film in English? But WAIT!
Here are 5 secrets to improving your English using films and series :
Set subtitles to English! When you watch a film in another language, you should also set the subtitles for the film in that same language. This way, you are hearing the spoken language, but you can also see the written words on the screen at the same time. A common mistake by English students is watching films in English but with subtitles in their native language. This is totally ineffective for your language learning!
Don’t stress! When you focus on reading the subtitles and you are watching a film in English, you might begin to panic because you don’t understand well enough to follow the story of the film, or because the subtitles go too fast. Don’t worry! The important thing is to keep watching! Believe it or not, your brain will automatically begin to decipher meaning as the minutes go by. So you must force yourself to be passive and relaxed when you watch, and simply enjoy the film, as if you were a child!
Use the classics! In order to avoid the panic of not following the story of the film or series, one thing you can do is watch something that you are already familiar with, such as classic or very popular films that you have already seen in your native language. This way, you can focus on key scenes that you know by heart, and learn the phrases in English. For beginners, children’s videos can be very effective because of their simplicity and universal themes.
Invite friends! Watching films and series is always more fun with friends! If you have friends who also want to improve their English, convince them to join you for English movie night. If you have friends who are native speakers, you can also invite them– they will certainly enjoy the film, and they may help you follow and understand it!
Try a musical! Music and language go hand in hand, and learning a language with music is a proven method for improving! Musical films and series that have catchy songs will have you singing the words out loud and having fun doing so. This is a wonderful way to improve pronunciation and learn vocabulary– even if you don’t understand what you are singing!
Here at Speak English Center, we have watched a lot films and series in order to give you the best advice possible!
Here is a short list of some videos that you can use to improve your English:
Have you watched any of these films or series in English?
Do you find that watching videos in English helps your understanding?
Do you have any other techniques that you find effective for improving English?
We love to read your comments!