By Denise Doty
Having difficulty understanding native speakers, even though you’ve been studying their language for years? Does your pronunciation need improvement? Then your homework assignment is to watch foreign language TV. What! Watch TV for homework? Really?
Sounds and rhythms of the language
Here’s why. If you’re not living in a country where the language is spoken then you may be listening to and thus be producing unnatural sounds and rhythms when you speak. Watching TV, is the next best thing to living abroad. By watching TV you will be able to hear natural speech by native speakers, this will allow you to mimic their speech patterns making you sound nearly native.
Have you ever studied something, anything at all, and then discovered weeks later when you needed that information you can’t remember it? If you don’t keep reinforcing the information our brains file it way in the back where it’s not easily accessible. Watching TV is just another way to reinforce the language you’ve learned. The more times you hear the word the easy it will be for you to remember.
Training your ear
Training your ear to listen to a foreign language is another great way to improve your language skills. When someone, who has never studied a foreign language before, hears foreigners speaking, it sounds like unintelligible gibberish. As a foreign language student learns new words they can start to pick out those words, and as their vocabulary grows they will be able to pick out even more words. Watching TV can also improve your accent by hearing when a native speaker stresses a sound or when they pause and then by emulating that rhythm.
Good for listening practice
Practice listening to native speakers converse via TV is great practice for real life conversations with native speakers. The best part of this type of practicing is the ability to rewind. You didn’t quite make out what they said, no problem, hit the rewind button! You’ve listened to the same phrase 5 times and still can’t make it out? No problem! Turn on the subtitles in that language.
Vocabulary, colloquialisms and slang
Exposing yourself to new vocabulary, colloquialisms and slang via TV watching is a wonderful way to learn and the most similar to how we naturally learn. Think of how a baby learns to speak. First, they listen, then they begin to mimic (example: baba for bottle), and finally reproduce. As an active exercise, TV watching can be used to mimic this natural way of learning. First, listen to your show a few times with subtitles; next listen to it without subtitles; followed by imitating words and phrases (this is where you stop, start, and repeat the TV show) and finally, go out to the real world and apply what you learned. Not only is this a more natural way of learning, it’s a stupendous way to solidify your new vocabulary. Ever studied new vocabulary from flashcards, your language on one side and the target language on the other for hours, then go to class and totally forget what you studied? I have! Watching and listening to TV provides you with more sensory channels. TV allows you to create a connection by offering you both visual and auditory stimuli which, in turn, creates emotional connections thus better memory retention. This is why it’s much easier for you to remember real life conversations than excerpts from articles or books.
Reviewing a textbook, completing worksheets, taking tests, and flashcards are all tried and true ways to learn a new language, but let’s admit it, they can be a little tedious. Watching TV is not only a wonderful language tool to use, it is also entertaining and who doesn’t like to be entertained, and it is this entertainment value that helps to motivate learners, besides who do you know that hurries home to review flashcards, but a telenovela, heck yes!
Speeds up the learning process
Beyond its entertainment value, TV allows you to understand through non-verbal clues: the actor’s tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. This non-verbal communication will permit a better understanding of correct grammar usage and inflection, as well as understanding how everyday conversation can demonstrate how some words can carry different meanings. The actor’s tone of voice, body language and facial expressions, alongside the spoken word, gives more sensory stimuli than listening or reading, causing a greater connection, hence, better memory retention and quicker learning.
Learn the culture
If you can’t travel, watching documentaries, especially culturally based ones; reality TV or even soap operas can teach you about other cultures. Many sitcoms and dramas can teach us about current events, political events, and of course customs and traditions. Television is a reflection of cultural values and an influencer of such. Next to being there, there is nothing better.
Next time someone tells you to turn off the TV and study, you can say you are and have 8 reasons to back it up!