Learning a language by watching TV and playing video games

By: Callum Denault

Published on: August 15th, 2023

Learning another language may not be easy, but it certainly does not have to be boring.  

Here are some ways you can get better at a second language, while having fun watching movies, television shows or playing video games! 

Benefits to learning languages from movies and TV 

Other than the fact that it may be a more entertaining way to learn another language, there are actually some benefits to watching foreign movies and TV shows. The main benefit is that actors tend to speak in a fast, imperfect way like how people normally do when talking in everyday life.  

Educational materials designed to teach another language will always be important and useful, but instructors and participants in language courses tend to speak in a slow, stilted way, that is unlike how people normally speak. Also, sometimes words are not pronounced properly when spoken, due to slang terms and differing accents. For example, English speakers often say, “do you want it,” in a way that sounds more like, “dew one it.”  

Watching TV in the language you are learning is not only a great way to understand the average person’s slang and speed, but it also helps you develop a more natural sounding accent yourself.  

There are other benefits to this style of learning. Watching content from a part of the world you are hoping to travel to can help you to familiarize yourself with the area’s language and also its culture.You can tailor the words and phrases you learn by choosing what program you watch. For instance, a zookeeper trying to learn Spanish may be interested in a Mexican documentary about wildlife. This is a great way to stay motivated when learning a language, since watching a fun movie or show is more engaging and will likely keep you more focused. 

Watching and reading foreign news 

The news is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with a foreign language, so much that many linguists say one of their goals is to watch or read the news in another language. Not only are sources easy to find on the internet, but it comes in multiple forms; meaning you can read, watch, and/or listen to content. On top of that, any good source of news is educational and enriching in its own merit, no matter what dialect it is written in. 

Additionally, news is very standardized: broadcasters speak in a formal, clear tone that is easy to hear, and journalists similarly write in a straightforward, slang-free manner. This arguably makes news a good intermediate point between the very formal way language courses are conducted and the totally natural, yet harder to understand, ways that movie actors speak. 

Using subtitles and audio to change the difficulty 

Because you can change both the language the show is spoken in, as well as, the language the captions use, this allows you to customize your television for whatever best helps you learn.  

For example, an easy way to start would be to listen to the show in your native tongue and have the subtitles translate it into the language you are trying to learn. A slightly more challenging way would be to change the audio into a foreign dialect and have the captions translate it into your primary language. If you feel you are advanced enough in your second language, you can also change a program’s subtitles and audio to both be in that second language, so you can completely immerse yourself. It can also help to simply the process by watching a show or movie in the language you want to learn, with no subtitles at all. This will force you to rely on your auditory skills.  

Ultimately, the combination of subtitles and audio is best left up to you, where you are in your journey, and what you feel will help you learn at your own pace. 

Playing video games in another language 

Video games potentially offer even more ways to help you learn other languages. Similar to movies and TV shows, you can change the settings to be in whatever language you want. Another option is to play multiplayer games with other people speaking the language you want to learn. This can range from playing with a friend who is either a native speaker or fellow student of the language, to playing with foreign strangers online. 

Some video games allow players to decide which server they connect to, making it easier to find other gamers who speak a particular language and live in a certain part of the world. For instance, in World of Warcraft, North American gamers can join a Latin American server and communicate with players who will most likely be speaking Spanish.  

Of course, not all video games heavily rely on players communicating with each other to win, so some games may be better for learning languages than others. For instance, Among Us requires players to talk with each other in written chat to find out which one of them is a killer, making it good for learning languages and may even work in a school setting too. Other franchises like Call of Duty have a voice chat feature, but those might not be as central to the game’s rules, so players will probably not talk to each other as much. 

Unfortunately, while playing video games can improve a person’s cognitive skills, online gamers frequently harass each other. Gaming culture rationalizes toxic behaviour as part of gaming, even though suffering from online abuse can have negative long-term effects. It is worse for people who are not the stereotypical young, white, male gamer. A lot of women unfortunately opt not to speak in voice chat when playing online games to avoid being harassed. 

Here is a list of games known for having toxic communities. You can either avoid joining them or only play online while prepared to deal with rude players. Remember, learning a new language is a long process, and you’re doing the best you can, so don’t let the mean players discourage you from trying.

Posted in ESL

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