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Can You Become Fluent in a Language by Watching TV? 

Can You Become Fluent in a Language by Watching TV? 

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Learning is perpetual. Schools and universities only lay the foundation.

Some people learn to enhance existing skills and get better at what they currently do. Others choose to explore entirely new domains and develop new skill sets altogether.

Learning a language you don’t speak at home or work is exploring uncharted territory.

For most people, the motivation behind learning a foreign language could be survival in another country or to communicate with people who speak the language.

Some like to learn a language because it makes them feel good or to tick off a bucket list item.

Irrespective of what the aim is, learning a language entails time and effort. How long and complex it is depends on the learning methodology adopted.

Among the various ways to learn a new language, watching TV shows or movies in a particular language is one method. But how effective is this technique?

Should you watch TV to learn a language? What are the pros and cons of this method? How can you do it efficiently?

Keep reading to find out.

How to Learn a Language by Watching TV, Movies?

Television has helped people gain exposure to and become familiar with different people and cultures from across the globe. And in the process, people often pick up the language.

Israeli girls learned Spanish by watching an Argentine TV soap opera with Hebrew subtitles. Professional Latin American baseball players learned English by watching the popular American sitcom Friends.

Countless other stories highlight how people have used TV to learn a language.

Learning a language by watching TV or movies is on par with learning through reading. Yet, schools and colleges lay little to no emphasis on watching TV to learn a language.

But you cannot blame the educators as TV can be distracting, or it only takes a press of a button to switch from learning to not learning. It’s highly plausible you’d slack a lot if you don’t know how to turn your TV into a learning device.

Here are a few tips and things you could do to learn a language by watching TV.

Choose the Right Kind of Content

choose a right kind of content to watch TV to learn language

Not all movies serve as excellent language-learning tools.

Action movies, for instance, are out of bounds. A silent film, although it introduces the cultural nuances of another region, doesn’t do anything to help you pick up a language.

A children’s movie is ideal since the dialogues are simple. Kids also don’t speak quickly, which helps you keep up with the spoken word.

Remember, the process should be engaging and not academic. Consider a light-hearted romantic comedy if you are not a fan of kids’ movies.

Comedy movies and series usually have a straightforward plot and easy-to-learn vocabulary. The characters also tend to be animated, which helps you pick up physical gestures and meanings.

Body language cues are key when learning a language like Spanish or Italian since people who speak those languages tend to use a lot of body language and hand movements during speech.

Steer clear of dark and complex thrillers. Even native speakers could have a hard time comprehending their plots and dialogue.

You may transition to them later when you can manage, or fancy challenging vocabulary and implicit communication.

Mixing up the content genre to develop a broader vocabulary range is essential.

If you thought you could only learn a language by watching movies, you’re mistaken. There are many other content formats, or programs and shows you can watch and enjoy while learning a new language.

For instance, if you like cooking, watch cooking shows. You’ll appreciate the show’s conversant format and pick up a few cooking skills too.

Watch with Subtitles Turned On

a man watches TV with subtitles

Watching a foreign-language movie with subtitles is better than watching the dubbed version. Subtitles are akin to the support wheels on bikes when you’re learning to ride.

Some recommend watching the same movie over and over again with the subtitles on. We are not against that approach, but we suggest that method only if you like the movie.

Otherwise, the process will be too taxing.

After watching the movie multiple times with subtitles, try watching it without captions and see if you can understand a few words or phrases.

Turn on subtitles during hard-to-follow scenes. Continue the cycle until you reach a point where watching the movie without subtitles becomes much more manageable.

By disabling subtitles, you’ll cultivate your listening skills, pronunciation, and fluency in the language. You’ll also notice facial expressions and body language better as there won’t be any piece of text seeking your attention.

Note Things Down

a girl takes note while watching movies

It’s not enough to watch the movie and listen to the dialogue actively. Keep a notebook or a digital equivalent handy to note down certain words.

Using a physical book is better since writing the words accelerates the learning process and activates a portion of your brain linked to memory. Here’s a study expounding on the topic.

Write down the words you hear in English or the language you speak based on their sound. The written words need not be spelled correctly but should sound like the original words when spoken aloud.

For instance, if you’re learning English, the following sentence:

“She owes allegiance to her nation” could be jotted down as

“Shee | oas | aleejians | to | her | nay | shun” based on your listening and comprehension skills.

If you’re having trouble catching the words, enable subtitles in the foreign or original language. Only turn on native language subtitles after you’re somewhat familiar with the speech.

The next stage is watching the content without subtitles enabled.

Take Breaks

Watching a foreign language movie in one sitting can be challenging, especially if your goal is to learn. Therefore, take breaks in between.

Breaking up the session into chunks is recommended as your brain can relax and assimilate the information.

A five to 10-minute break every 20 to 30 minutes of watching is ideal.

Also, it’s okay to play particular scenes or the entire thing more than once if you could not fully comprehend or process them the first time.

The basketball players (mentioned above) watched Friends multiple times before they could claim to have a grasp over the English language.

Begin on a Relaxed Note

woman enjoys watching TV with popcorn while on sofa

When you think you’ve done enough learning for the day, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the movie.

Don’t think you’re squandering time by not actively watching and listening. Exposure to the content itself amounts to some level of subconscious learning.

And if you think frequent pausing-and-playing breaks flow, watch a 20 or 30-minute short film instead or a series with several short-lived episodes.

A two or three-hour-long movie is recommended only after you’ve reached the intermediate learning stage and can watch content without concentrating very hard.

But if you’re a movie buff, watching a movie when you’re a beginner is fine.

Watch the entire movie initially to get a feel for the language and its sound. Get more hands-on in subsequent viewing sessions.

Watching a movie in a foreign language without subtitles or other help could be alienating and intimidating at first. Your brain may resist or be unable to absorb things you see and listen to.

But that’s okay. The key is not to panic.

Let the foreign words flow into your ears naturally. Focus on the visuals instead to gain context. You’ll soon start recognizing recurring words and will pick up a handful of words by the end of the movie without trying.

If that doesn’t help and you still feel anxious, watch the movie’s dubbed version first or with subtitles. Once you know the story, watch the original language version. The experience will be a lot better.

Watch with a Native Speaker

Watching TV to learn a language need not be a solitary exercise. If you know someone who speaks the language you aspire to learn, seek their company.

People usually appreciate foreigners who try to learn their language and culture. There’s a sense of inexplicable satisfaction to see someone who does not belong to your community watch or listen to content in your native tongue.

Several reaction channels on YouTube make thousands of dollars each month by capitalizing on that very human trait. They watch content in a language they don’t understand, upload the recording, and the native speakers flock to those videos.

Watching a movie in a foreign language and having a native speaker by your side will accelerate the learning process.

The other person can be your live help whom you can refer to each time you struggle to follow. Better yet, watch the movie in its entirety and have a post-movie Q&A session to clear any doubts and learn more.

Bonus: The friend who offered to help will also help you with pronunciation if you choose to practice reciting the words noted down.

Advantages of Learning a Language by Watching TV

Learning is beneficial, but it’s also work, which puts off many people. There are very few methods or tools that make learning engaging. Watching TV to learn a language is one such engaging pursuit.

Here are some benefits of watching TV to learn a language.

Diverse Content

a man chooses a movie to watch on TV

You are not just able to choose the format (movie, TV shows, sports, soap opera, news, etc.), but there are also multiple genres.

Whether you like romance, drama, documentaries, action, or thrillers, TV provides all of them at the press of a button.

TVs’ diversity and accommodative nature make them an extremely efficient tool for learning a language.


a couple enjoys watching TV

TV is an entertainment device. That means TV programs and shows are made to be inherently capable of holding your attention.

Since the TV format has this innate capability to keep you hooked for hours, mere exposure to the device for a sustained period could lead to significant learning.

In other words, learning by watching TV doesn’t feel like learning at all since the educational material is interspersed with heavy doses of fun content.

The same cannot be said of classroom-based or purely academic language learning programs.


There’s a difference between learning something with context and learning without any.

For instance, reading books and articles to pick up new words is a lot more effective technique to learn new words than combing through a dictionary and learning words and their meanings by rote.

Like reading, watching movies and TV shows is also context-based learning.

If you come across a new term when watching a show, you may pause and look up its meaning. The next time you encounter the same word, you will immediately recollect when and where you first got introduced to the term.

In other words, the contextual clues make remembering the word’s meaning easier.

Disadvantages of Learning a Language by Watching TV

Learning through TV has its advantages, but there are a few disadvantages too.

Spoiled for choice

a woman quits the show she is watching on TV

With an unlimited content selection, it can take some time and effort to zero in on a movie or show that suits your needs. If not curated well, you may be forced to quit watching a movie or show midway and hunt for something better to watch from scratch.

Multiple accents/dialects

The various dialects and accents can be confusing. For instance, European and Brazilian Portuguese do not sound the same. You’re likely not to know the differences initially and get mixed up between those nuances.


a woman watches a happy family on TV

With TV, you never know when a purely academic session will turn into a relaxed, fun period. Also, the learning process could be inefficient since there’s no one to guide or pick you up every time you slack.

Despite the above, the pros of learning through TV outweigh the cons.

In short, watching TV to learn a language continues to be viable.

Can You Become Fluent in a Language by Watching TV?

You can learn a new language, or at least get familiar with it, by watching TV.

Whether you become fluent in the new language depends on the type of content you watch, how many hours you dedicate to the activity, your basic commitment to learning, and the language you’re trying to learn.

Some languages are easier to pick up, and a few others are tough.

If you are a native English speaker or a foreigner who’s good at English and would like to learn a new language, start with Spanish (of course, if you don’t know the language already).

Spanish speech, writing, and grammar are similar to English and should come much easier to an English speaker than to people who speak other languages.

On the other hand, languages like Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, etc., could take a lot more time and effort to learn, let alone become fluent in them.

Arabic and Mandarin Chinese are particularly challenging due to their completely different scripts, grammar, sentence structures, and other nuances.


Why Learn a Language by Watching TV?

Learning a language by watching TV is inexpensive, readily available, and fun.

Most people cannot afford to go to another country just to learn a language. And reading books is not everybody’s cup of tea.

TV is in almost every household, and with televisions becoming smart and having the ability to connect to the internet, consuming content on a TV has never been as convenient as it is today. Gone are the days when we saw what the broadcasters wanted us to see.

The modern-day smart TV lets you pull up the content of your choice anytime, anywhere, and watch it at your own pace. OTT (over-the-top) platforms such as Netflix, Prime Video, HBO, Disney, etc., have no shortage of foreign language content to watch.

a man selects an app to watch TV

And if you don’t want to pay for a subscription, there’s YouTube with its huge, continuously growing assortment of free content.

If you pay for video content, kindly note that subscription-based OTT platforms like Netflix could have region-locked content and limit what you can watch.

Set up a VPN, like ExpressVPN or NordVPN, to access the entire catalog.

Are Audiobooks Better Than Watching TV to Learn a Language?

Audiobooks, no doubt, are excellent repositories of information and can also help learn a new language. Because it’s just listening, you’d likely be more engaged and actively listen to the audio.

However, audiobooks do not trump or fully substitute TV as they offer no visual cues. As mentioned earlier, contextual learning is critical. Pictures make it easy to collect context-based information.

a person listens to holy bible audibook

With narration-based audiobooks, there’s usually little context. The delivery isn’t dialogue-based.

And how do you enable subtitles?

Although the narrator could repeat every sentence in English or the language you speak, the process will get stretched, consuming more time.

Audiobooks can complement visual-audio learning or when you’re pretty comfortable comprehending a language.

For instance, if you’ve made good progress with Spanish, listening to an audiobook in Spanish could further test your comprehension and listening skills.


The best time to learn a new language is at school. The next best period is now, even if you last went to college decades ago.

Granted, learning as an adult is not as intuitive or easy. But if you put in the effort, there are no boundaries. You only need grit and to know how to act upon your interest to learn.

Watching TV shows and movies in another language is one of the many ways to learn a new language. But it’s not as straightforward or as fun as it sounds.

You need to put in the effort, and things could take longer than you initially thought. But if you keep at it, you’ll get familiar with a language you had no clue about a few weeks or months ago.

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