Today there are a zillion of different strategies to learn a language. There are systems, programs, audio recordings, apps, you name it. And it’s hard to say which ones are best because everyone is different. But if you want to learn a foreign language or improve your skills, watching movies is certainly among the easiest ways to do that.

Passive versus active learning

Any attempt to improve your foreign language skills can be put in one of two brackets: passive or active. When you actively study a language, you may take a text, translate, pick the words you don’t know. Or you can listen and repeat. While passive learning examples are adding songs of the target language to your playlist, or watching movies with subtitles. Some people even believe that they improve their language skills when they put on a recording and go to sleep. While there is little evidence to prove that, it cannot be completely dismissed.

One thing is for sure. Passive learning takes much longer but on the other hand, it is much more enjoyable. You put on your favorite movies, turn on the subtitles and the process of learning starts. What can be bad about that?

Learning languages from the movies

If you learn a language by watching movies, you have three options. Watch the entire thing solely in the target language (preferably, a movie that you have seen before), you can watch the movie in the target language with subtitles in your language or watch a movie in your language with target language subtitles.

Believe it or not, all of these ways help you learn but they do it in different ways. Ideally, you should mix all three ways of learning through movies. But to know which one should dominate think about your reasoning behind your new hobby.  So, the first thing you should do is to decide what will you use the foreign language for. If you plan on taking a trip to Italy or France, and would like to be able to talk with the locals, naturally you should hear how the language is pronounced.

Needless to say, it’s not only the pronunciation that matters. You should know what words are you actually saying. That’s why mixing in movies with foreign subtitles is also very useful in learning languages.

Having said that, I should also emphasize that nothing beats active learning. Watching movies, listening to songs is all well and good but to see results, you should also pick up book and study grammar and common words. This way it won’t take long until you feel confident speaking a foreign language.

Lastly, a word of caution. Unless you become extremely proficient in a foreign language, your skills will start fading away if not used. Ten years ago, I studied French, and even though I still remember a few phrases, almost everything I learned back then is wiped out now. Or perhaps it’s hiding somewhere deep in my memory. I guess I can only find out when I pick up French again.