There has been a recent rise in popularity of net-based TV platforms such as Netflix and Showmax as well as the ability to use your TV to record shows and rewatch them at your own convenience. These recent changes have meant that you no longer have to be at home in front of the television at a designated time to watch your favourite shows AND you no longer have to miss an episode of anything if you happen not to be home. For these reasons many students ask how these shows can be watched and enjoyed as a tool for learning the English language at the same time.
Watching a TV show gives you access to both linguistic and cultural aspects of the language. It is often said that a very small percent of what we say is conveyed by the words we speak. The rest is facial and with our body language. Watching TV shows can help you see many nuances of the language.
There are also many cultural references that occur in TV shows that can help you learn about the country where that language is spoken. With the example of English you can learn about popular colloquialisms and slang that young people are really using. The language of the TV show has not been special abridged or graded for learners – it is authentic. You can learn about popular brand names for products or cultural phenomena such as “high fives”, knock knock jokes and high school dating customs such as ‘going to the prom’.
Bearing all of this in mind, in this blog I’d like to discuss a few things that one could do to maximise the effectiveness of these TV series as media for learning.
There are several ways to watch foreign TV series that happen not to be in your language. Dubbing is a process where each speaker is given a different voice actor that reflects their character on the screen e.g./ female characters get female voice actors in the target language. There is also a voice-over system where all speakers on the screen are translated by a single voice. This is one of the most cost-effective techniques but by far the worst. Sub-titles are the ideal solution and involve providing written text on the screen and the original language can still be heard. As far as language learners are concerned, if you are learning English and watching an English TV show you should adjust your TV settings so that you can hear the original language and read the sub-titles. Sub-titles are BY FAR The best option for you as a learner of English.
Once you have watched an episode of a program and you particularly liked it, watch it again with the sub-titles off. You can play prediction activities by trying to pause the recording and try to guess/remember what the characters said and then pressing play to check.
Also watch with your notebook and write down any words that may be new for you.
Say it out loud
Always try to give key words and expressions some life by trying to repeat them out loud the way the actors said them. Sometimes copying exact pronunciation and inflection of the sentence is not as easy as we think. “How you doin?” “Are you talkin’ to me?”
Join Chat Rooms and Forums
Most popular TV programs have huge online communities which love discussing episodes and talking about developments in the show.
Also there are often Youtube channels that have fan theories about what is transpiring and about what might happen in the future episodes.
If you feel like you’d like to take a more active role in the conversation you can also join chat rooms that allow participants to contribute their thoughts on the show and let fellow fans know what you think.
Beware of the Context!
Some language is very specific to social contexts. This is especially true for the language of young people. Teenagers speak to adults differently than they do to their peers. Students of English may hear an expression on a TV show and then use that expression in the wrong context. Using slang or tween colloquialisms with teachers and grown-ups my cause embarrassing and awkward situations. Beware of the register and stylistic context of the language you are learning. One common example is that of the word ‘like’. I have teenaged students who heavily over-use the word like.
“Yesterday I was like going to the like store and I like saw this like guy who was just like standing there looking all like …suspicious.”
When two teenagers are talking to each other this sentence might seem absolutely fine but for a young person to be talking this way in an academic context or to an adult in general it is NOT appropriate and sounds very silly.
So English language TV shows can be a very effective tool for learning English. I think that many countries that favour the sub-titles system nationally as their main option for foreign TV shows (Sweden, the Netherlands) are generally very competent in English. I’m sure there are many factors that contribute to this but perhaps the constant contact with English through watching TV plays a small role as well.
What are your favourite TV shows for learning English and do you have any special techniques. Let us know in the comments section below. We LOVE hearing from you!
Episode – one show from a larger series
Prom – the last big dance for American teens finishing high school
Knock knock jokes – an old traditional joke formula that requires participation from an interlocutor
Transpiring – happening , occurring , going on