Nowadays we have a variety of sources for movies and series, such as Youtube, DVDs, cable and satellite TV, just to name a few. Thinking about this, I even wrote some e-books covering slang and expressions used in American TV series and I’m going to give you some practical tips to make the best use of this tool.
- Get set with a pen, notebook (or a word editor) and a dictionary.
- Choose a scene, no longer than five minutes.
- Watch the scene in English, without subtitles. Try to write down the words and expressions that you understood.
- Watch this scene in English, without subtitles, again. Write a little paragraph (in English or your mother tongue) about what’s happening.
- Now watch the scene with the subtitles in your language. Compare the scene script with the words and the paragraph you wrote down.
- Watch the scene in English, without subtitles, a third time. Try to write down more words and expressions that you understand. You can stop as often as you wish.
- Now watch the scene with subtitles in English without pausing the vídeo. Try to add more words and expressions to your list. Up to this point, don’t use your dictionary.
- Watch the scene again with the subtitles in English and pause to add new words and expressions. You don’t need to write full sentences, only new words and expressions that are new to you.
- After you’ve watched the scene six times in English, try to infer the meaning of the words and expressions you wrote down. If you can’t, use your monolingual dictionary if you’re an intermediate/advanced student, or a bilingual dictionary if you’re a beginner.
- Remember, whenever possible, write down the new words and expressions within the context. For example, on a Glee episode, I saw the characters use the collocation “brutally honest” many times, so I wrote it down.
You will see that in the long run, you will be using your dictionary less and less because this kind of deep practice (listening and reading) will help you improve your awareness towards words and you will start seeing some useful patterns too.
Here are some more ways to improve your English using series and movies.
Whenever you’re reading and listening to real English, you will see that some of the grammar rules that you learned in your textbook don’t apply to real life. Mind you, I think it is really important to be able to write correctly and I also think that it is awesome to sound more natural. For example, no one will think less of you if you use contractions like “gonna” or “wanna” or if you say “She just woke up” instead of “She has just woken up.”
Here’s something you can do after you watch a movie or an episode of a series: pretend you are telling someone what happened on the episode or movie. Add as many details as you can – go back, say sentences again, look up for new words you don’t know yet and keep practicing.
As with speaking, you can write some paragraphs about what happened on the episode by using the words you’d already written down when you watched the scenes previously. If possible, have someone take a look at your paragraph and give you feedback – either a teacher or a friend with more advanced language skills.
You can also try to recreate the dialogues of some scenes with your own words; there’s no need to look exactly like the original. You can also create a whole new dialogue based on the scene you’ve just watched and give it a new ending.
Challenge: why not a start a blog on your favorite series in English?
Listening and Reading
I can’t stop saying this: listening and reading will work wonders in your English learning process. The more you read and listen, the more vocabulary you will learn and the more structure (grammar) patterns you will encounter. Not to mention the fact that learning a language also means learning the country’s culture, which is always present in movies and series, and that is a big plus!
Remember that learning takes time and learning things thoroughly (like in the 9 steps above) should not be done carelessly. Take your time, enjoy what you’re doing and if you’re tired, stop, take a little walk, have a sip of water, then start studying again.