Learn English Through Movies

Many students ask me for easy things they can do to improve their English. While there is no ‘quick-fix’ way to learn a language, watching English movies is about as easy as it gets. So if you’re tired of grinding the pavement or reading through text books, take a break and watch a movie!

Why It’s Effective:

The English you’re learning in your ESL classes, or textbook is correct. It’s the proper, standard form of English. But it’s not commonly spoken. The English you’re learning is usually more formal than the English people actually use. However, the English spoken in movies is usually very realistic, and most similar to what you would hear English native speakers say. You’ll also hear how things are said. For example, the words, “you’re great” can have so many different meanings. You might say it sarcastically, lovingly or sympathetically. But you’d never know if you just read those words. By watching movies, you understand the context of words and how they are said. Maybe a young girl is saying “you’re great” to a younger brother who just stole her phone. You’d understand then -with the way she says this, and the context of the story- that she is saying “you’re great” sarcastically. It’s also a great way to get a better understanding of American humour or culture.

How to Do It:

You may be interested in Shakespearean movies, or historical films, but these generally aren’t the best films to learn from if you’re a beginner. Truth be told, even native English speakers may have some difficulties understanding the language. So, for now, put down Romeo and Juliet. I tell a lot of my students to watch animated movies targeted at children because the language is generally friendlier, and easier to understand. Movies like Finding Nemo, Up and Toy Story are great places to start.

Remember to choose a movie you’re going to enjoy. Sure, you may learn some good English from the movie Titanic, but if you’re not interested in romantic movies, you’re going to be bored. And when you’re bored, it’s hard to focus and learn anything. So a pick a movie that you’re excited about. To help with this process, Rotten Tomatoes, reviews thousands of movies. You’ll have plenty to choose from.

Also, pick a DVD that has an ‘English Subtitles‘ feature.

Okay, so you’ve got the perfect movie picked out. Now what?

Wreckit_ralph_fixit_fred_jr_arcade_machine_e3_20121. Watch Just One Scene

Many students will watch through the whole movie, not fully understanding it, which only leaves them feeling frustrated at the end. Instead, just watch one scene (approximately 3-5 minutes). Watch this scene with the English subtitles on. Try to read the subtitles along with the voices. If you can’t fully do this the first time, don’t worry too much about it.


EXAMPLE: I decided to watch the first scene of Wreck-It-Ralph because I am just a beginner, and I really like arcade/video gamesI was able to read along with most of the subtitles, but not all of them.

2. Write Down Any Words/Phrases You Don’t Understand

Rewind the movie, and begin at the scene you just watched. Every time you hear or see a word/phrase you’re unfamiliar with, pause the movie, write it down, and then continue watching. If you haven’t figured out the meaning of the word when you’re done watching the scene, look up the words using a dictionary (an online dictionary on your phone works just as well!)


EXAMPLE: I didn’t understand the terms/phrases: surface, not gonna lie, literally, contractor, and shabby. So I looked up all these terms on my phone.

Surface: outside part or outer most layer of something. // Not gonna lie: slang term meaning truthfully. // Literally: in a literal sense; exactly, actually, precisely. // Contractor: somebody on a contract that provides materials or labour to preform a service. // Shabby: in poor condition.

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3. Re-watch the Scene

Once you’ve looked up the meaning for all the words and phrases you didn’t understand, rewind the scene, and watch it again. This time, it should make a little more sense! Continue watching the scene until you’ve completely understood all the terms you wrote down in step 2. You can choose to do this all in one day, or span it out over the next week. There’s no need to rush this step. By continuing to review the same scene over and over again, the new terms you learned will stick in your head. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun way to improve your English, so don’t get frustrated if you can’t remember all the terms when you re-watch the scene. By the end of the week, you should know this scene and all the terms very well.


EXAMPLE: I now understand all of the terms I looked up except for shabby. I re-watched the scene two more times before I understood what the main character meant by his home being shabby. They showed the pile of bricks and garbage he lives on which really helped.

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4. Move Onto the Next Scene

Repeat steps 1-3 for the second scene. Watch the scene with the subtitles, write down any terms you don’t know, look up the terms and continue to watch the scene until you completely understand it. Once you understand the second scene, move on to the third scene, and so on and so forth, until you’ve watched the entire movie!

Once you’ve completed the whole movie, you should feel very proud of yourself! That’s a lot of hard work you put in. Even watching just one English movie can help with your understanding of English tremendously. I hope you try this method, and I hope you’re able to see the progress you’ve made. Keep up the hard work!

Don’t forget to check out my website English Expressions, and follow me on Twitter!

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