How to really improve your language skills with movies in another language
Everyone keeps on talking about how great it is to watch movies or TV-shows in another language (preferably but not limited to their original language…). And it’s true – to some extent: Not only do the original actors transport certain messages with their voice which might have been altered (or completely eradicated) by dubbing but there are always some jokes that just get lost – somewhere on the long, rocky road of translation (believe me, I’ve been there).
However, watching a show or a movie in another language is not a piece of cake and although friends or random strangers on the internet will keep on jabbering about how well they understand every single word – believe me – all lies! Pause at any given moment and ask them about a joke or a sentence, I bet 5 Dollars – they don’t know!
People often tell me how frustrating and discouraging it is to start a movie in English (for example), especially as a beginner. Different accents, sound quality and overly complicated vocabulary sometimes make it virtually impossible to follow the plot, let alone enjoy the show.
So, without further ado, here are my 5 mistakes people make when they are watching movies and TV-shows in another language. Adopt my strategies and make the most of your language learning experience.
No subtitles and/or subtitles in the wrong language
Remember: Subtitles are not a sign of weakness but your friend. Turn them on and increase your language learning immediately by combining both audio and visual stimuli. However, you should try out the subtitles first: Sometimes, the subtitles do not match the spoken words to a 100%. If they differ too much it’s better to turn them off OR to use the subtitles in your own language.
By the way, there are two approaches to subtitles: a) titles in your own language and b) those in the foreign langue you are learning:
It depends on how fluent you are in a language. My rule of thumbs: Beginners watch with subtitles in their own language, more proficient learners use the subtitles in the target language (provided they are correct).
Throwing in the sponge too fast
Don’t get too frustrated too fast. Give yourself some time to adjust to the foreign language, to the dialects or accents, to the setting of the movie etc. Some people need more, some people less time to get into the language “mood”. Here are some tips to make it easier for you and to warm up a bit:
You don’t know the movie
Do not (and I mean it) watch a movie that you have never watched before. Believe me, it makes understanding a movie a lot easier if you know the premise, the characters and the entire setting.
My tip: Watch the movie or the episode of the show you would like to watch in your own language (if a dub is available of course) first. Preferably only a short time before attempting to watch the same movie/episode in the language you are learning.
The reason is: If you know (more or less) what the characters are saying, keeping up with the foreign language becomes much easier. And you are able to link certain colloquial expressions. Words, phrases and expression stick easier that way.
The movie is a bore
Make sure you pick a movie or a TV-show that appeals to you and your interests. Nothing makes watching a movie for learning purposes duller than the movie being uninteresting or unbearable to watch.
This kind of relates to point 3. Watch the movie beforehand to determine whether it’s worth the 90 minutes.
In this context I always advise to begin with your favourite movies, because – well, hello, you know them, you love them – the chance is pretty high that watching your all time favourite in a foreign language will still be quite a joyful experience.
You’re boiling the ocean
If you are at the beginning of your language learning-voyage, maybe you are not ready yet to watch a (real) movie in the language you are learning.
A certain level of language knowledge is a must to really enjoy a movie or a TV-show. Otherwise it’s just a struggle and a total waste of time.
If watching movies turns out to be too difficult (for the time being) – well, there are plenty of shows on YouTube you can watch which are suitable for beginner stages. Just browse through the playlists – and, surprisingly, some of these learning videos are really well made and quite entertaining. Have fun!
How often do you plan to work a bit on your language skills? How often do you think – well I’m actually quite good but I really should learn some words?
Let’s be honest – in our everyday life it’s simply difficult to take the time one needs to adequately work on one’s vocabulary. As you can tell from my last blog entries, this is exactly my topic. I speak six languages. I’m fluent in three of them (level C1+). 3 of them I speak on an intermediate level (B1-B2).
By all means, this doesn’t mean that I am a language genius. Or the opposite: you never see me sitting in a room, learning the dictionary by heart. Definitely not. However, I happen to have found a few ways how to pick up words in my daily routine without it feeling like hard work. One method is (wait for it) – housework!
Some of you have to take a deep breath now. Yes, I know, how could someone propose to combine dull tasks like vacuuming with the even more boring task of learning vocabulary? Well, hello, I am doing it – for real and for a good reason. Housework tasks usually are repetitive and filled with automatisms and thus leaving enough brain capacity for some good ol‘ language drill.
So, what kind of things can you do during your housework chores to push your skills? Let’s get started, shall we?
Talking to yourself
Look around – are you alone? Good! Talking to yourself is a great way to use new vocabulary in real sentences, to practice difficult pronunciation and to rehearse real-life conversational situations.
Why don’t you give yourself an awesome interview while doing the dishes? Or you use the opportunity to tell your boss what you really think about him. Or you work on that Academy Award acceptance speech of yours.
Advantage: Nobody listens to you – mistakes are ok, and you can jabber as much nonsense as you want, which takes away inhibitions and your mouth is getting used to speaking a foreign language. Always remember: you have to practice with the tools you’ve got.
Disadvantage: Nobody listens to you to correct you. However, I don’t deem this to be a really bad thing. Everyone makes mistakes – hell yes, even natives make a ton of mistakes. You will always speak according to your current level and that is perfectly fine – by the way: this fact also applies to real life conversations!
My advice: Let’s say you are working on those dreadful irregular verbs – you could recite them for example. Or you make it more interesting by recollecting what you did last weekend. Make a story and tell it to yourself – you will be surprised how frequent we must use irregular verbs…
Maybe you are working on grammar structures such as the French subjunctive (bastard). Pick the signal words for example (bienque etc.) and make as many sentences (subjunctive included of course…) with them as possible, say those sentences out loud – repeat them until your ears bleed. Trust me, after 50 sentences, your brain will have rewired and will automatically use the subjunctive from now on, believe me – it works.
You will often find that the labels on cleaning products contain the product descriptions in various languages. Use that to your advantage and check out what air freshener, toilet cleaner and co. are called in the language you are learning.
Advantage: Everyday vocabulary that you can use in the real world!
Disadvantage: The translations are not always 100% identical to the original so make sure to double-check some of the words (using the dictionary duh…).
This tip definitely is one of my all-time favourites – because it’s so simple! Put your headphones on, go to YouTube and chose an audiobook to your liking. Perfect for training your listening skills. By the way: your local library most likely has a few audiobooks in foreign languages!
Advantage: 100% availability, 100% free, 100% authentic.
Disadvantage: It can be a challenge to find suitable audiobooks for beginners. If you are really in the mood for an audiobook (or a huge fan like me), you could listen to audiobooks that are specifically made for language learners – they are available for every level and not too expensive (go check amazon).
Be your own narrator – describe what you are doing at the moment (I am doing the dishes, now I’m going to the living room to pick up after my kids…). You will a) be shocked by how many words you already know and b) even more shocked by how many everyday words you don’t now (yet).
Have a notepad at hand to scribble down any vocabulary you might not know. Don’t check them directly though (too time consuming) but find the translation some other time. The next time you do your chores repeat the story – let’s see how many of the words you have remembered.
Advantage: Talking to yourself allows you to train speaking in complete sentences and enables you to incorporate new vocabulary. You will automatically improve your pronunciation and you will lose your inhibitions to speak the new language!
Disadvantage: As mentioned before – there is no one to check your grammar and pronunciation, but let’s leave grammar be for once … speak away!!
Do you have some more tips to share? Leave a comment and let us know!
Learning vocabulary is boring, takes time and often enough ends in frustration because you have forgotten all the words a few days later.
Today I would like to show you some easy ways how to pick up new words in your everyday life. Remember – vocabulary is key to improve your language skills and bring your communication to the next level.
1. Change the language on your smartphone
You’re learning German? Great – why don’t you change your smartphone interface to German for a change? On average, we check our smartphones up to 76 times per day. We usually use the same apps, open up our messengers, go to settings etc. All these things are done automatically. By changing your language-settings you can pick up new words super easily. If your – for example – read the word ‘senden’ (send) 76 times a day, you will remember this word in no time!
2. Use the language function on Netflix
Currently I am madly in love with Modern Family. After having watched every episode in English, I have started to watch some French episodes as well – a great way to pick up new words, some authentic phrases – you furthermore train your listening skills – winwinwin I’d say.
By the way: American movies are usually easier to understand because the French tend to speak a little faster. The dubbing actors thus have to slow down a bit to keep up with the lip movements of their American counterparts. This way, dubbed movies and shows are a bit easier to understand in comparison to the more authentic but superfast original French productions!
YouTube offers a wide range of audiobooks in different languages. Just take a look and chose one of your favourite books in German for example (check the title on amazon or Wikipedia). Audiobooks are usually read by professional speakers who usually have an impeccable pronunciation. Make sure to pick a book that you already know – that way you don’t have to focus on an unknown plot. This gives you enough space and brain capacity to listen to the pronunciation and new words for you to add to your own word pool.
4. The ‚1 word per day‘-method
No idea if others use this method too or if I’m the freak who came up with it, but anyways… it helps a lot. I pick one specific word per day and try to use it as often as possible (in my head if people are around – I am weird, but others don’t have to know that immediately…). I build sentences, memory hooks, say it a couple of times etc. This way, this one word is easier stored in my long-term memory. If you only used this method, you would learn 365 new words per year – still quite a good amount, right? Also, this method is a great pastime during those awfully long waiting times in the supermarket queue (you always pick the wrong one…).
5. Doing exercises on the loo
Smartphone apps or traditional paper‘n’pen style – doesn’t matter! We all spend a lot of time on the toilet (230 days in one’s entire life). You can use this time perfectly well by doing some grammar exercises or to work on your vocabulary. Go to your local bookstore (or amazon if that is closer-by). You will find a wide selection of exercise-pads and -books. I had a 1-exercise-a-day pad once. Short exercise for everyday, cheap and quite fun to use. Try it out!
Do you have more strategies how to make learning vocabulary easier? Let me know!