Tips for learning English from TV and films. By English with Stephen

Learning Strategies: Using TV and Film to Learn English

This is the transcript for the podcast episode on how to use TV and Film to learn English. Remember to subscribe using one of the podcast apps below so you never miss another episode.

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Hello, my name’s Stephen Greene and this is Learning English with Stephen, the series of short podcasts that helps you learn English as quickly and effectively as possible.

Lots of my students say they have learned a lot of English from watching films or TV. However, it isn’t enough just to turn on Netflix, watch an episode of your favourite comedy and think you will magically learn English. There is a 6-step process you can follow that will help you to make the most of your time while watching TV.

And make sure you listen until the end as I have a bonus activity you can use that will help you learn English even quicker.

But first, some music!

Before we start, I’d like to remind you that you can find the transcript for this podcast at my site Reading the transcript and listening at the same time can be a really useful way of learning English as you can find new words and match the pronunciation to the spelling.

And now, on with the show.

I’d like to start with a true story about me when I was a kid, a long, long time ago. Sometimes, a teacher at school would come it with a TV and a video. This was always good news for us kids because first of all, we usually got the chance to make jokes at our teachers who didn’t know how to connect the TV to the video player or how to turn the volume up or something.

But the main reason we liked it was because we knew we were not getting a real class. The lights were going to be turned off, the TV turned on and all the kids would sit back and relax.

And that is the problem. How do you watch TV normally? You lie on the sofa or relax into a comfortable chair and you stop concentrating.

If we are watching TV to learn a language, we have to concentrate. It can be an enjoyable way to learn language, but it is not as simple as just finding the remote control and voila you have learnt English.

So, follow this 6-step procedure and you will make the most of your time and learn some English while watching TV.

And don`t forget the bonus exercise at the end of this episode.

Step 1 – Select something to watch.

The best thing is to choose something that is short; between 20 and 30 minutes is ideal. There are two reasons for this, the first is that you are going to watch it at least 4 times, so if you choose a 3-hour epic it will take you forever.

The second reason is that concentrating in a second language is tiring. Trying to pay attention to a long film is hard work. It is much better to focus your energy on shorter programmes, but do it regularly.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use your favourite Lord of the Rings or Marvel Endgame. It just means that you should select a short part of a longer film instead of trying to use the whole thing as a way of learning.

Step 2 Watch for enjoyment

Don’t worry about learning any English at this stage. If you normally watch something dubbed into your language, then continue to do that. If you prefer subtitles, that have subtitles. The aim here is just to enjoy the programme and understand the story and the jokes.

Step 3 – Watch and analyse

Watch the same show or clip again. This time both the audio and the subtitles should be in English. If there is a word or phrase you don’t understand pause and check the meaning. If you didn’t hear something properly, go back and play it again. Make notes about anything you find interesting and maybe include this language in your lexical notebook (as we discussed in episode 6).

Step 4 – Watch with the subtitles

Again, have the audio and subtitles in English, but this time, don’t stop. Just let the whole episode or clip play through to the end. You should now know the story and and most of the vocabulary. If there is something you don’t remember, don’t worry, just keep going. You can check your notes again once you have finished.

Step 5 – No subtitles

Now that you are completely comfortable with the show, just watch it with no subtitles. The first few times that you do this it might be very challenging, but once you start to train your ear you will notice that your listening skills improve very quickly.

Step 6 – React

Try to find a way to react to what you have watched. You could write a short summary using some of the language you have learned. You could talk about the episode with a friend or another English student. You could go on a site a read what other people have thought about the episode and maybe add your own comments. Perhaps you could even tweet about it or write something on Facebook. It doesn`t really matter what you do, just do something with the all the time you have devoted to studying the episode or clip.

Anyway, that is nearly all from me. If you want to get in touch with your ideas for using TV and film to learn English, please leave me a comment. You can also find me on my site The website is also the place where you can get information about having online classes with me.

Bonus Step

As promised, here is the bonus activity you can use.

One thing that can be useful is to use the subtitles in your own language as a way of contrasting English and your language. Listen to the English and compare it with the way the subtitles have been written. Do the subtitles use similar tenses in both languages? Can you learn something about the levels of formality in the two languages? I used to do this a lot when studying Portuguese, and it really helped me learn the language.

I hope you like these strategies and that you find them useful.


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