watching videos for language learning

A typical mistake made by some language learners, at the beginning of their studies, is believe to this statement: if I start watching movies and TV series as much as I can I will speak a foreign language magically. Not at all!

If you think so, I know you feel frustrated when you watch that snowball of words and sounds coming from that foreign movie you chose to watch. 10 minutes? Maybe 20 and you start “reading” the movie and you do not realize you are not watching it anymore.

Passive learning is a fascinating concept, but it’s a scam.

Of course, I don’t mean that watching videos is completely useless. First, you need to reach a basic level in that language, then you can try watching & learning.

Learning a language involves four parts: reading, writing, speaking, listening. The last one is the most difficult, especially if you don’t live in a country where they speak the language you are learning. Even advanced learners have problems with that. We need to train our ears.

Language Learning from Videos for Beginners:

Use a good headset. When you watch something with loud speakers, the sound is never accurate because of acoustics. It is not a big deal if you don’t understand every word in your native language. Your brain knows which words are missed. But with a foreign language, the background information is lacking.  You need to hear every single chunk of sound.

Start watching commercials. Are you learning Spanish? Go to YouTube, type “funny Spanish ads” and watch some of them. Easy. By the way, if you are really learning Spanish, you cannot miss the Darth Vader ads.


Language Learning From Videos: Intermediate Level

The ideal format for intermediate and advanced language learners is the TV series. The length of each video is just long enough to get some advanced language concepts or new vocabulary in, and just short enough that you won’t get bored. The continuing story across episodes will also keep you engaged and make it easier to understand context similar to how you would in real life.

Find a TV series online. Choose carefully; focus on dialogue and how many actors/actresses are involved. If you watch a dubbed video/film, the protagonists speak a bit slower, so it should help you to follow it better.

Before you start an episode, make sure you know the topic. That way your brain can select the proper vocabulary without thinking too much. Then, follow the same steps mentioned for beginner level.  Don’t feel frustrated. It takes a while before you get into the mood of the chosen series.  If you prefer watching films, divide it up in multiple sittings.


Step by step to learn from videos:

  1. The first time you watch the video, simply watch it for pleasure. This way you can sit back and relax, and you won’t get distracted by enjoying the video later on. It also gives you the general context of the story, which makes learning new concepts easier later on.
  2. Watch it again, this time taking note of its general meaning. For example, you can set a list of questions to ask yourself about that video (who is the protagonist? What did he say? Etc.).
  3. Afterwards, look up any words or phrases that you missed. Make note of this for future reference. If you want, you can watch the video again and see if you can catch them in use.
  4. To take your learning even further, you can try to write down the story and put together a presentation in your target language.

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