Tired of studying from textbooks for hours and coming up with little to no results? Already tried audiobooks in the hopes of learning English and that didn’t work out? Why not make learning a new language fun and have an experience similar to immersing yourself with natives speakers from the comfort of your home? Try watching movies in English!
From this article you can learn:
- Why learning English through movies just works?
- How movies can help you speak better English
- Why some learners find English movies challenging (and what to do about it)
- How to learn English from movies effectively
- English movies to watch in American accent
- English movies to watch in British accent
- English movies to watch (various accents)
Why learning English through movies just works?
Reading this and wondering “how come I could LEARN English through just watching movies?” After all we’ve all been conditioned to believe (at school maybe?) that learning a language has to be tiring and boring. However, not only can watching movies be more effective than using textbooks but also engaging and fun. Just check out those 4 top reasons why and add renting a good movie to your to to-do list:
1. Movies give you visual context – you learn faster and remember longer
In a classroom words are often learned out of context. You are sitting at your desk, looking at your student book and completing exercises as directed by your teacher. And you have to rely on your imagination when practicing phrases related to grocery shopping and that airport visit. That’s difficult and not very effective. Even if you learn that dictionary definition you forget it in no time.
A study by Insivia found that viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video compared to 10% when reading it in text
Learning English through videos such as English movies engages more of your senses. You hear the dialogs and background sounds, see facial expressions and the whole movie set. As a result you learn effectively without even noticing and as a bonus you remember better what you learn by associations.
2. Movies teach you authentic language not textbook English
“Hello. How do you do?” is one of those English expressions you may find in your textbook or hear in your English class. And while that’s proper English..
You will not hear native speakers say “Hello. How do you do?” in a casual conversation. Surprised?
In fact, when I did a survey on English phrases which are too formal to be used in a casual conversation, one of the native speakers respondents said: “When I hear hello, I can tell I’m being greeted by non-native speakers”. There is nothing wrong with saying “hello” or “goodbye” however English speakers just find these words to be a little too formal. But it’s hard to find that out from your English textbook. Movies, on another hand, provide you with the same natural language that would actually be used by native speakers.
3. You learn English pronunciation from the world’s best actors
English and most languages is more than just the words we speak. It is also about how they are said. Two words may appear to have the same meaning in the dictionary however it is common to hear them used in different contexts. Tone can also have a major effect on how a sentence is perceived. “How is it going?” you may ask your native speaker friend (now that you know that how do you do won’t work). She may answer good or OK. But does good mean good and ok mean ok? To be able to communicate well you have to learn to read between the lines.
English words (the literal meaning) account for 7% of the overall message, the tone of voice accounts for the 38% of the message and the body language accounts for the remaining 55% – found Albert Mehrabian in 1971
And so you will learn that for some reason when it comes to how things are going – great means good, good means ok and OK may means so-so or not good (but I don’t want to complain). You won’t learn that from your textbook. But movies can help. And the good news is – that you will be able to learn from the world’s best actors how to use the tone of voice and the body language to covey the message. As long as they are English native speakers you can also use them as an excellent source of native English pronunciation. After all they all received great voice training.
4. Watching movies doesn’t feel like learning and is fun
Motivation is key when it comes to language learning. Does studying from a textbook put you to sleep? Do you really have enough of boring English grammar exercises and cramming those endless word lists? Just rent an good movie, relax and learn English not even noticing that you’re learning new words and phrases, grammatical structures and pronunciation .. while having fun!
Motivation is “the most important single factor influencing oral proficiency” observed Paul Lennon, in a study of advanced German students of English enrolled at the University of Reading
How Movies can help you speak better English
All right. Now that you know why learning English through movies can be so effective let’s look at the top 5 language proficiency skills which you can improve by simply watching movies:
1. You practice your listening skills when watching movies in English
What’s the most challenging thing for students learning English through a movie that can actually be beneficial?
Many English learners find the movies difficult to follow along with because words are spoken too fast.
However, this can actually be very beneficial because it prepares you well for interactions with native speakers. English textbooks and recordings are spoken unnaturally clearly and slowly. Also, in your typical language learning environment words and expressions are chosen very carefully, often with the use of high frequency word lists.
And that can handicap you instead of strengthening your skills. Movies provide you with the ability to learn commonly used informal expressions, slang, or scum words and phrases that, while quite common, are rarely taught in textbooks or dictionaries. All, spoken at natural speed.
2. Movies can improve .. your speaking skills
Improving speaking skills through listening? Wait a second..
Yes, you can improve your speaking skills by listening. After all that’s exactly how babies learn their first language. Speaking and listening go hand in hand. And when it comes to language learning – most is learned through imitation.
We spend 45% of our active daily time listening and 30% speaking found Leroy Lane in 1987. Studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners.
Listening to native speakers will help you speak better and more fluently. You will hear how to put words together and how to use intonation to link them and to emphasize the important parts of the message. Best part is – with movies you can replay everything and practice until you get it exactly right.
3. Movies can help you with English pronunciation
English pronunciation no matter if British or American is challenging for most learners.
It is the pronunciation, not grammar or vocabulary that most severely impact the communication process – note the language researchers Hinofotis and Baily
Attempting to learn the English language through reading alone can build poor habits. Listening to English spoken in movies naturally helps you learn how to pronounce words properly. You hear how the world’s best actors speak and you can see the position of their lips and mouth which can help you pronouncing the vowels. By turning on subtitles you can also see how these words are spelled.
4. Movies improve your vocabulary
Who likes cramming new English words? That just ain’t fun. If there only was a magical way to learn new words without all those repetitions, study cards and word lists…
Good news. There is a such a way! It’s called incidental learning. Here’s how it works. You learn new words without even knowing guessing their meaning from the context. The more telling the context and the higher your attention the more effective the incidental learning. Watching can work miracles since you are exposed to many visual cues that help you guess the meaning of unknown words. Movies are also entertaining which keeps your attention high. You just need to select a movie with the level of English that is not to difficult to follow for you.
Children’s movies use simple vocabulary and are the easiest to follow while science fiction productions have the greatest proportion of rare words – found Steward Webb
5. Movies help you you learn the culture and understand the context
Through courses you will learn a lot of vocabulary and grammar but you may not understand how to apply this in real life. By watching movies you will understand how to actually apply what you have learning in everyday situations.
Why some English learners find English movies challenging (and what they can do about it)
Some learners find it difficult to learn English through watching movies. This may be due to the level of English being too high for you to understand or the movie may be too long or just boring. Some movies feature characters with heavy accents that make it difficult to follow along.
Those shouldn’t discourage you because for every problem on that list there is a solution which you can leverage.
Problem #1: Language level too high for you to follow along
Solution: Choose a movie that matches your language proficiency goal. Your goal ideally should be one level higher than your current level of English. If you are just starting out focus on movies that are appropriate to your level and what you want to achieve. Children’s shows, movies and cartoons are great for this.
Problem #2: Watching movies is a passive experience with no interaction
Solution: Good news is, it doesn’t have to be. It is totally up to you to make it interactive. For example: you can make notes while watching and reading up on the topic featured in the movie after watching. You could also talk to a friend about what you watched or even watch the movie with someone and exchange remarks as you are both watching.
Problem #3: It is hard to understand some accents
Solution: Deliberately decide on a movie with mainly American, British or other English accents. Choose only one accent of English that you want to practice and stick to it. The differences in pronunciation are significant and mixing up accents will confuse you. Finally, avoid movies where a lead actor has to fake an accent as it won’t be authentic and you would want to learn from the natives speakers.
Problem #4: Movies can be long and boring
Solution: Select movies that are interesting for you. Read movie description and decide on a theme that sounds fun and is at least somewhat familar. Don’t start with very long movies e.g. Titanic.
How to Learn English from movies effectively
1. Choose an interesting movie.
Don’t wast time on boring movies. If you are bored it will be difficult to pay attention. And no attention equals no incidental learning. Avoid movies that are vague, overly philosophical, or don’t have a solid story line . Choose films that you would normally watch in your native language. When in doubt check out movie reviews. Sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and IMBD have reviews for tens of thousands of movies. For quick suggestions check out the following sections.
2. Choose a movie that matches your level of English.
For beginners, I highly recommend choosing animated movies. The main reason is that the English used is very friendly, enjoyable and easy to understand. Children’s movies are the lest likely to include rarely used and difficult English words. Attempting to use movies based on authors such as Shakespeare (for example “West Side Story (1961)”) can lead to confusion. Shakespearian English has not been used for centuries and even advanced and native English speakers have difficulty understanding it.
3. Pick a movie in your target accent.
You would be surprised to learn how many differences there are between British English and American English. Especially when it comes to pronunciation. Pick movies that will help you polish your target accent. If you don’t have any preference, pick an American movie due. You will have an excellent choice of Hollywood movies to choose from.
4. Leverage subtitles .. or don’t
Subtitles can help you big time. They will let learn spelling. They will make it easy to look up the new words in a dictionary.
English learners who activated English subtitles performed 17% better in listening comprehension – found a study by J. Birulés-Muntané and S. Soto-Faraco.
After watching a movie for the first time you may want to watch it again without subtitles. This will help you to focus on the conversation and dialogue as a whole rather than looking at individual words. You will be able to focus better on the story. You can see how much of the movie you understand without subtitles and perhaps recognize any weaknesses in your understanding of English.
5. Repeat short sentences!
Practice and repeat short sentences after learning what they sound like. Doing this will help you to ingrain it in your brain and remember it longer. The exercise can be fun especially when you know that you are doing it properly and you understand what you’re saying.
6. Watch English movie with friends.
You may have friends that want to learn English or improve their skills. It might be difficult to get them to join you in a study session however they are unlikely to turn down an opportunity to watch an enjoyable movie. Your friends can help you with parts you don not understand. After the movie you and your friends can practice what you learned and discuss the movie (in English of course).
7. Keep a movie journal.
Did you hear a sentence or a word that you liked or that popped out at you? Would you like to use some of these in the future? Write it down! If you watch your movies, stop the video if you hear something that might be useful and write it down in a notebook. This way, you can collect real-life phrases that you can practice and use with your English friends in the future (so long as they’re not offensive, of course).
8. Just have fun and don’t try to understand every word.
You will find that many of the words you have learned are actually almost never used in day to day life. It is fine to begin putting less emphasis on these words in your studying and to begin using words that are actually used.
American movies to watch
If you decided that you are going for the American accent you will have a lot of movies to choose from. In fact, the American film industry (often called Hollywood) produces more than 800 files a year in American English. Hollywood is the oldest film industry in the world and grosses more money every year than that of any other country.
Finding Nemo (2003)
Finding Nemo is an animated movie about a clownfish named Marlin who loses his son Nemo. In his search for his son he meets another fish named Dory. Together, the two make an incredible adventure across the ocean in order to find Nemo. The movie is a classic and recognized as one of the best animated films ever.
- Genre: Animation, Comedy
- Level of English: Beginner to Intermediate
- Rotten Tomatoes Ratting: 99%
- Notable Awards: Won the Academy Award (Oscar), best selling DVD movie of all times
Zootopia tells a story of the unlikely partnership between a rabbit police officer and a red fox con artist, as they uncover a mystery causing the disappearance of inhabitants from a big city of anthropomorphic animals. You will like the movie for the spectacular animations, sense of humour and enchanting music and stunning acting. Adult viewers will find a lot of parallels to the real world.
- Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
- Level of English: Beginner to Intermediate
- Rotten Tomatoes Ratting: 98%
- Notable Awards: Won the Academy Award (Oscar)
“The Social Network” (2010)
This movie is the story of young Mark Zuckerberg, a student at Harvard who went on the create Facebook and revolutionize how we communicate with other. Zuckerberg finds fame and becomes a billionare but at a great price. The movie will help introduce you to some more technical terms relating to computers, technology, and social media without being too difficult to understand.
- Genre: Biographical drama
- Level of English: Intermediate – Advanced
- Rotten Tomatoes Ratting: 96%
- Notable Awards: Won 3 Academy Awards (Oscars)
British movies to watch
The speech of the king (2010)
Colin Firth plays a drama like King George at this time, struggling to overcome his speech obstacle. He wishes to give an inspirational speech to inspire his soldiers to fight. The movie focuses especially on pronunciation and therefore is a great choice for those wishing to learn English.
The Queen (2006)
The best way to learn “Queen’s English” is to hear the Queen. This film, played by Helen Mirren, is a historical drama documenting the reaction of the British royal family to the death of Princess Diana. Not only does it give a fascinating insight into how the institution truly works, but the spoken English language is incredibly clear and easy to understand. You will learn how the upper-class accent differs from the other accents in the UK.
English movies (different accents) to watch
My Fair Lady
Some dialogue in this movie is easy to follow however others can be quite difficult to understand. However, as with “King’s Speech”, you will learn a lot of tips to improve your pronunciation, distinguish different British accents and vocabulary, thanks to its excellent classical songs.
This movie is a better choice for those that are more experienced. The strong north-English accent of its protagonists can make it difficult due to the many different expressions and slang terms used.