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!