Is watching TV a good way to learn English, or any other language? Is it even possible? For a long time, I thought that watching TV (or Netflix, films, YouTube and so on) was good for students who want to practise their listening skills but maybe not much more than that. However, I've been thinking about it a bit more recently and I'm beginning to change my opinions slightly.
Firstly, as I said, the most obvious reason for watching TV in English to improve your listening skills. However, I think it depends on your level. If you are a beginner, I don't think you can learn much even if you watch hundreds of films! I've watched things in French and learnt absolutely nothing because it's just too far beyond my level! I think that low-level students would be better off watching videos made specifically for learners, such as BBC Learning English or Simple English Videos (both on YouTube too). Maybe TV shows and films are only suitable for higher-level students.
Another reason to watch TV is that if you watch often enough, you can get a feel for natural language. Coursebooks, grammar books and language apps don't always give you the most authentic sentences! With TV, you can hear grammar and vocabulary used in its normal context.
TV and films can help you with your pronunciation. You can learn how the language should sound. You can even try to copy what you hear. Remember that there are lots of different accents though. British English is different from American or Australian English, and even within one country, there can be considerable variation. Londoners sound different from people in Edinburgh or Manchester.
What about vocabulary? I think watching TV is probably a good way to reinforce vocabulary that you already know. If you hear the same words over and over again, you are more likely to remember them.
I'm not so sure that it's the best way to learn new vocabulary. Sometimes TV is just too fast for you to hear and remember new words. Also, you're not likely to remember many new words unless you write them down. Are you going to stop the programme to write down every new word you hear? I know I wouldn't want to do that but perhaps I'm lazy and you're different! I think reading is the best way to improve your vocabulary because it's slower.
When you watch something in English, do you use subtitles? I recommend starting with subtitles in your language, then later you can switch to English subtitles. In fact, reading subtitles and listening at the same time is a good learning strategy because you may recognise the word when you see it but not when you hear it. With practice, you will eventually be able to watch TV without any subtitles at all! Remember though, it's so easy to just read the subtitles after the first few minutes and forget to actually listen!
Another strategy I recommend is to watch a whole film or programme all the way through with subtitles and then watch your favourite ten or fifteen minutes again without them. You could, of course, watch the whole thing again if you want but I think most people would find that boring!
So I think it's great to watch TV in English as part of your studies but you should be clear on why you are doing it. Is it to practise your listening skills or to improve your pronunciation? If you want to improve your vocabulary, does TV really work for you or would you be better off with reading? And if you want to speak English, watching TV will not be enough. The only way you'll ever get good at speaking is to speak!
Also, it does depend a lot on the person. Watching foreign films doesn't help me at all but I have heard of some people who really do learn a lot from it. I think you need to have a good level already, have a real talent for languages or be willing to really work hard at it for some time. Also, perhaps if you really hate reading, TV would work better for you!
You might like these posts:
How to improve your listening - 12 top tips
Advice for listening - includes useful websites and apps
Remembering vocabulary - 10 top tips
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