Students spend 45 percent of their day listening and are expected to acquire 85 percent of their knowledge by listening, according to the International Listening Association. Because listening is so important, many students learning English have realized that watching television and movies have helped improve their language skills immensely. Watching these programs can also expose you more to the culture. Knowing the culture can lead to a better understanding of the English language, including idioms, humor, accents and phrases that may be unfamiliar to you.
What to Watch to Improve Your English
Choosing what to watch is different for everyone. It may be best to choose movies and television shows that include dialogue with colloquial English so you can train your ear to understand conversational English. It would also be helpful to choose a program that reflects aspects of the culture. The following examples of television shows and movies depict the American culture.
Most English learners and ESL teachers recommend The Wonder Years as a television program to watch. This program is an American classic, and follows a character through his teenage years. Along with helping you learn the language, The Wonder Years can also give you a glimpse into what life was like growing up in America during the 1960s and 70s, what was considered to be America’s “golden era.” Even with its cultural identity, the show will still relate to most teenagers. Seinfeld is another recommended television program, as it has basic English that is easy to understand, and if you listen carefully, a very funny script that has kept many ESL students laughing. Some teachers also recommend watching reality TV because you will be able to listen to real conversations with people.
When it comes to movies, most English learners and teachers recommend historical films such as Apollo 13, To Kill A Mockingbird and October Sky. Some also recommend choosing a film that has different dialects than you’re used to, such as Forrest Gump.
Make the Most of Your Time: How to Watch
Active listening is the best way to learn English from watching television and movies. Choose a program that is one step above your current language level. Then, try listening to it with the subtitles first. Though you will be actively listening, you can have the subtitles if something comes up that you do not understand. Sometimes it also helps to watch the program in your native language first so you know what is going on, and then transfer to the English version. Most Disney films have a wide array of languages available.
To help your listening improve even more, try using a movie guide. Ask your teacher if he or she will create one for you. If not, eslnotes.com has English Learner Movie Guides that can help you understand the movie better. For example, if you’re watching Groundhog Day, and you hear “OK, campers, rise and shine!” the movie guide can define “rise and shine” as “a common way to wake people up early in the morning.” Movie guides can help you keep up with the movie while learning new phrases and idioms used in daily conversation.
When you’re not actively listening, you can still passively listen. Though not as effective as active listening, having the TV on in the background while you’re working on something else can still help you absorb the language or be aware of new accents.
Watching television programs and movies can be a fun and effective way to learn English. Language skills such as grammar, sentence structure and pronunciation are learned while you also absorb culture, idioms, humor, and history. The more exposure your brain receives, the faster it will learn. It’s time to find your remote and start learning!