Free English Lessons

Using Movies and TV to Learn English – Video

by Oli Redman on 17 September, 2014 , No comments

In this lesson, you can learn how to improve your English by watching movies and TV shows.

That’s right: using movies and TV to learn English can be a very effective way to improve your English.

Almost everybody loves watching movies and TV shows. So, what better way to improve your English? And here’s the best part – you can watch anything you want!

How It Will Help

Here are a few ways that it can help your English.

Firstly, it will really help with your listening skills. The speaking you hear in movies is real and natural. The more time you spend watching movies and TV shows, the easier you will understand spoken English in real life.

By copying words and phrases from movies and TV you will improve your speaking skills, and your pronunciation.

Finally, movies and TV shows are a great way to learn new English vocabulary, including phrasal verbs, idioms and slang that are common in spoken English.

1. Before You Watch

But before you run to get a new movie, here are some things to think about before you start watching.

What level are you?

You need to try to find a film or show that suits your level.

If you’re a beginner, you might find it difficult to understand all the vocabulary in more complicated movies or TV shows.

So, what can you do?

Children’s shows and movies might be a good place to start. You could also try simple sitcoms—comedies about everyday life.

Whatever you choose, make sure you can understand at least 50% of it without any help. That means: no subtitles and no pauses to check the dictionary.

If you can’t understand at least half of what you’re watching, then it’s too difficult.

If you are at an intermediate B1 or B2 level, you should be able to understand a lot of the films and shows you can find, so you have a much wider choice.

Do you like action and adventure, romance or sci-fi? Find something you enjoy watching. That way, it won’t even feel like you’re studying!

If you are at an advanced level, and you really want to push yourself, consider movies about complicated subjects like politics, law or history.

Whatever level your English is now, use the same rule you saw earlier: you should be able to understand at least 50% of what you watch without help.

However, you also shouldn’t be able to understand everything! If you can understand over 90% of what you’re watching the first time you see it, then it could be too easy.

That’s fine if you just want to relax, but if you want to push yourself and improve your English faster, try to find something where you can understand most of it, but not all of it.


Subtitles can really help when watching movies or TV in English, but they can be dangerous, too.

If you depend too much on subtitles, especially subtitles in your own language, then you won’t be listening and thinking in English.

The best choice is to watch without any subtitles at all. That way, you’re really learning English through English, which is the most effective way to learn quickly.

The second best choice is to watch with subtitles in English.

If you feel that you need subtitles in your own language, then you might be trying to watch something which is too difficult. Try to find something which you can understand without needing a translation.

Origin and Accents

Most English language movies come from the USA, which means that the accents you hear will usually be American.

That’s great if you’re looking to copy the American accent, but not so good if you want to have a British accent.

Something else you need to keep in mind is when and where the thing you’re watching was made.

The language and phrases are often very different depending on the origin.

For example, in an Australian movie, you might hear the greeting G’day, mate!

That’s because it’s a common Australian greeting, but it’s rare outside of Australia.

If you start saying G’day mate every time you enter your English class, it’s going to sound quite strange.

When a movie or show was made is also important.

Language is always changing, so movies from 1940 and 2010 will sound very different.

Often, slang and idioms have completely changed. For example, have you ever heard of a fuddy duddy?

This is slang from the 1940s or 50s. Some people might know what this means but you probably wouldn’t use it nowadays.

Just so you do know, a fuddy duddy means an old-fashioned person

So, think about the kind of English you want to speak. If you want to speak with a British accent, look for British films and shows. If you want to learn more slang and idioms, make sure you choose something more modern.

Notepad and Dictionary

Finally, make sure you have a notepad with you to write down any words you don’t understand, and a phone or computer to check the words online.

OK, now you’ve chosen something to watch. What next?

2. While You’re Watching

Using movies and TV to learn English - TV image

Watching a long movie in a foreign language can be overwhelming, and maybe you don’t actually have the time to watch and understand everything in one go.

What can you do about this?

Start by breaking the movie or TV show into smaller sections. For example, watch five or ten minutes at one time. Don’t use subtitles here: just relax and try to understand what you can. Press play!

When you’ve finished, pause and ask yourself these questions.

  1. Can you explain what happened in three to five sentences?
  2. Who was in the film or TV show? Can you describe them? Can you remember anything specific they said?

Try to make some notes about what you’ve just seen. Make a few bullet points, like this:

  • The man arrived at the party and started talking with the woman.
  • His best friend arrived and fell in the swimming pool.
  • The woman kissed the man on the cheek and left the party.

Next, watch it again. This time, you might use English subtitles.

But, be honest with yourself. Do you need them? If you could answer the two questions you just saw, then probably you understood quite a lot.

You don’t have subtitles in real life, so it’s better not to use them. But if you didn’t understand much, you could use them now.

So, go back to the start of the movie or show and watch the same section again. While you’re watching try to write down any phrases or vocabulary you don’t understand.

Don’t try to write down everything here. Choose ten to fifteen words or phrases which you think are interesting or important.

Check the new vocabulary in a dictionary. Think about how they were used in the scene you just watched.

Next, watch from the beginning again.

Keep your notepad open and listen out for your new words and phrases.

After you hear your new vocabulary, pause the video and try to repeat the whole sentence with the new word or phrase.

This will help you to remember the vocabulary, and will also help you to practise your pronunciation.

Also, think about how the words and phrases are used.

The same words can have a very different meaning in different contexts.

This is your chance to see how words are used in real situations. Let’s look at an example.

You’re so crazy.

Without any expression this sounds quite strange. What does it mean? Is it positive or negative? You probably wouldn’t hear this, or use the phrase in this way. Let’s try it again.

“You’re crazy!”

What about now? This feels quite positive. You’re talking to a slightly crazy person who is maybe a bit unpredictable, but also fun to be around! Let’s try another.

“You’re crazy!”

This is the opposite and feels very negative. Perhaps the person you’re talking to has done something wrong.

“You’re crazy!”

This shows that you’re very scared of the person you’re saying this to.

You can see how the same phrase can be used, with very different meanings. A lot depends on facial expressions and body language. Watching TV and movies in English is a great way of understanding this.

Okay, so now you’ve seen a practical method to use TV and movies to learn English.

It might take you a long time to get through a movie or a show in this way, but that’s okay! You can take several days or even weeks. Be patient and take things step by step.

Also, don’t push yourself too hard. Studying in this way should be enjoyable.

So, if you get bored of going through the same section again and again, watch some of the movie or show naturally. Just sit back, relax and watch. Understand what you can.

Then, come back another day and go over the more difficult parts carefully.

3. After You Watch

Using Movies and TV to Learn English - list image

After you’ve watched your movie or show, you should try to use what you’ve learnt in real situations.

How can you do this?

Take your list of new words and phrases. Choose five to ten that you like and that you think you could use in your spoken English.

Make a list and put it up somewhere you often see. Try to use the words on your list.

You can use them in English class, or when talking about movies or shows with your English-speaking friends.

Once you’ve used a word or phrase, cross it off. It will really give you that extra motivation.

What else can you do after you’ve watched?

If there’s a speech or a scene you really liked, try learning it and practising it. You can do this anywhere… Okay, maybe not in public places, but you can do this in a lot of places. It’s a fun and simple way to practise your English.

You could also read about the movie or show on websites like Wikipedia or IMDB. This way, you can check your understanding of what you saw.

Now, it’s time to stop watching this video and go and find a movie or TV show in English you want to watch! Good luck and we hope you enjoy using TV and movies to learn English!

Thanks for watching!

Oli RedmanUsing Movies and TV to Learn English – Video