By Denise Doty
I can’t tell you how many teachers have told me to watch TV to learn Spanish or any foreign language. Following their advice, I would sit down and start watching some show that I would just accidentally stumble upon, 10 minutes later I would get frustrated or bored or something, anyway, I would give up. With so many language teachers telling me to watch TV I knew something was wrong with my approach to watching TV in a foreign language.
Watch TV actively
The first thing I realized was my attitude needed some adjusting. I was sitting down to enjoy the show, to watch it passively. WRONG! This activity is study time, which means being actively involved in watching, you need to be actively listening, taking notes, stopping the show when you don’t understand something and rewind it until you do, and look up new words. TV watching is anything, but a passive activity if your goal is to learn a foreign language.
Selection is key
First, select a TV show that you enjoy, a lot, preferably, a TV series, because, by the time you finish, you will know the show inside and out very well. Choose a show that will allow you to stop and rewind, you will need to do this several times to be able to catch those words and phrases that you don’t know. Use a DVD, download a movie or use something such as Netflix or Hulu. Now, as for the type of show to watch, well that depends on your specific language goals. If your goal is to speak grammatically correct in the foreign language, then try listening to the news. Broadcasters are trained to articulate their words and they don’t use a lot of slang. Also, if you watch the news in your own language you will already have a sense of what they are talking about. In addition, for beginners, there are slow versions of the news. Comedies, on the other hand, are full of slang, colloquiums, and poor grammar, not the best language learning resource. Besides jokes and humor, in general, are difficult to translate. So try a drama, romance, soap opera or a documentary on something you have an interest in. These will provide a variety of slang and colloquiums to learn. Pick a movie that isn’t dubbed, rather one in its original language. It will be easier to understand and it will provide a more natural sounding resource.
Time, Pencil and Paper
Before you sit down make sure you have plenty of time, a thirty-minute show may take you 60 to 90 minutes to watch in a foreign language. Now make sure you have a pencil, paper for note taking and a dictionary to look up words you don’t know. Start watching your foreign language show. Remember, this is not a passive activity. Pay attention to the dialog. When you don’t understand something, stop and rewind until you do. Once you have the words make sure you write them down. Beside the new terms, describe what the actors were doing at the time they used these words or phrases as this will give you contextual clues to the meaning of the new words.
Understand your new vocabulary
With a dictionary, the internet and Wordreference.com or even a friend, look up the words. Check more than one site to gain a complete understanding of the new words or phrases. Note some of the words you might not know could be slang or colloquialisms so it is critical to call upon other resources than only your traditional language dictionary. Try urban or slang dictionaries or you might even need to utilize a dictionary that is industry specific. Think out of the box.
Use your new vocabulary
With your translating done of the new words and phrases, it is time to study them. Practice saying them until you have memorized them and are comfortable with saying them and understanding them. After all, that now comes the real fun part. Use them! Practice your new vocabulary with your friends. It is only then when you begin to put them into practice that you will truly understand them and you will be able to impress your native speaking friends to boot!
Now that you understand the new vocabulary, have memorized and practiced it, grab some popcorn and your favorite beverage and sit back and watch your show again. You’ll be amazed at how easy it now is to understand. Enjoy!!