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Can Watching Movies and TV Really Make You A Better Language Student?

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Watching TV and movies can be helpful when working on foreign language skills, but what are the pros and cons?

All over the world, many people who speak English as a second language do so with an American accent. This is due in large part to massive exposure to movies and TV shows filmed in the United States. The extent to which this is a problem really depends on personal preference.

Globally, the English language is spoken in many different ways, including numerous variations spoken in England alone. Hollywood is simply not interested in teaching new learners about the subtleties of these variations, so the majority of domestic productions are understandably delivered in the US pattern of speech.

Striking a Balance

Accents aside, how beneficial are films and TV in helping develop foreign language skills? Surely they cannot compete with a structured lesson delivered in a classroom; after all, that is how even native speakers perfect speech, spelling, and grammar with precision. Theoretically, if TV were a sufficient language-learning tool on its own, a teacher could just pop in a DVD and leave a class to its own devices.

Yet while films and TV shows may not be perfect learning aides, they offer undeniable advantages to improving language skills. Foreign language success depends on striking the right balance between multiple resources.

Entertainment and Subliminal Learning

When it comes to films and TV, people watch what they find entertaining. When the content is fascinating, intent listening and learning will naturally follow.

However, even a little background noise can be educational. Humans absorb what they see and hear on television with very little effort or concentration. Let a show play in the background while doing chores and, even without anyone’s undivided attention, the sounds and cadences of the language will become increasingly familiar.

Slang, Accents and New Contexts

When learning is limited to the academic sphere, it is possible that pupils will find structural shortcomings. Aspects of language like slang and the aforementioned variations in accents often hold little importance in the classroom, so television can be helpful for supplemental learning.

According to language site English Practice, “learning through television can expand the grammar and pronunciation horizons of the learning dramatically. There is a difference in saying a word if the word is said with a heavy accent.” Dialogue in TV is generally more playful and organic than what is learned in the classroom, giving pupils the chance to witness the language applied practically, delivered in a whole range of new contexts.

Learning in this way is not limited to language skills; regularly engaging with foreign media and cultural material can also assist students in learning about other cultures. In developing countries, for example, watching shows depicting Western life can provide a valuable insight into cultural differences and similarities.The reverse is also true for Westerners who want more exposure to what life is like elsewhere in the world.

TV can certainly help sharpen linguistic skills. However, the slang, trends, and often colloquial use of language mean that it should not be used as a source of information exclusively. Watching a sitcom may help refine informal speaking skills among English-speaking friends, but it will not help write a cover letter when applying for a new job.

Listening to Reese Witherspoon flirt onscreen may help land a hot date, but it probably will not help anyone to deliver a speech at a formal occasion.

Combine Active and Passive Learning

The most important thing to remember is that watching TV is a passive form of learning and will only accomplish so much. New students need to engage in active learning through writing and speaking with qualified native speakers, like the instructors at Listen & Learn. While films and television should not be viewed as the perfect method of learning a new language, there is certainly no harm in allowing them to supplement your approach to mastering fluency.