Watching TV in a new language can help you reinforce your language learning in a fun way. Hearing and seeing vocabulary and grammar in action can help you remember it better so you can start using it yourself! Here are tips and tricks for achieving your language learning goals by watching movies and TV.

How to use movies and TV shows to learn a new language

Learning from TV is all about your audio and subtitles settings: You'll tweak these in different combinations to focus more on reading or listening, or to manage the difficulty level. No matter which setup you choose, be sure to pay attention to your target language when you're watching!

Build reading skills [Rating: easy]

Audio: in your own language (e.g. English)

Subtitles: in the language you’re learning (e.g. Spanish)

How it works: This setup is great for beginners who are learning how to express thoughts in the target language. Because the audio's in your own language, this setup makes it easier to follow what's happening in the show while giving you a chance to boost your vocabulary.

Pro tip: Look out for any familiar words or expressions in the subtitles! You might be surprised by how much you already know.

Improve listening skills [Rating: medium-to-hard]

Audio: in the language you’re learning (e.g. Spanish)

Subtitles: in your own language (e.g. English)

How it works: This setup is great for beginners and intermediate learners too, because it gives you easier listening practice, especially with identifying individual words within a longer stream of audio. With subtitles in your own language, it should be fairly easy to follow the show.

Pro tip: For a challenge, see how much you can understand without checking the subtitles, like when you run to the kitchen for a snack and can only hear the audio!

Illustration of Duolingo character Junior walking with a huge bucket of popcorn. The popcorn is overflowing and his cheeks look full, like he's stuffed full of popcorn.

Immerse yourself [Rating: hard]

Audio: in the language you’re learning (e.g. Spanish)

Subtitles: also in the language you’re learning! (e.g. Spanish)

How it works: With this setup, you'll learn to match what you hear with what you read. This combination is great for advanced learners, and it's a good challenge for intermediate learners, too. You may not understand the show as thoroughly with this setup, but you've got the visuals of what's happening on screen to help you out, too!

Pro tip: Sometimes subtitles don't match the audio word-for-word, so don't doubt your listening skills if that happens! Instead, think of it as getting 2 expressions for the price of 1. 😅

Watch like a local [Rating: even harder!]

Audio: in the language you’re learning (e.g. Spanish)

Subtitles: None (!!)

How it works: This option works well for advanced learners, those up for a challenge, *and* those already familiar with the show! So if you're looking for an excuse to binge-watch an old favorite, this would be an especially fun choice.

Pro tip: Facial expressions and gestures can help you fill in the gaps if you don't understand every word! This option is easiest when watching something you're already familiar with, but use any context you can to help support your language learning.

Study 2 languages at once [Rating: 🚨]

Audio: in the language you’re learning (e.g. Spanish)

Subtitles: in *another* language you're learning! (e.g. French)

How it works: Advanced learners—and those hungry for a challenge—will be suppressing their own language and working on turning up the "volume" of other languages in their brain. This setup is also great for noticing what is similar or different across languages: You might notice words that are cognates or that expressions translate differently.

Pro-tip: This requires a LOT of brainpower, so you might want to start with a shorter episode or something you've already seen!

How to pick movies and TV for language practice

Here are our top tips for finding something to watch in the language you're studying:

  • Rewatch something familiar. Not that you need another reason to re-watch your all-time favorite movie or TV show, but it's a great way to practice your language skills! Since you don’t have to spend (much) mental energy figuring out the storyline, you can focus your attention on the language.
  • Watch children's movies. If you’re a beginner, content for kids can be a neat way to expose yourself to the language. Children’s movies can be easy for adults to understand: There will likely be more concrete language, clear action, and linear storylines that are made understandable with the visuals on screen. They can also be a fun peek into culture!
  • Decide what you want to practice. You’ll hear different phrases, slang, and maybe even dialects in a TV show about gardening than in an action movie. And if you’re picking a TV show, think about whether it’s a show with a script or reality TV. Scripted shows are more carefully produced and more edited than reality shows, so if you want to hear real people using real language in real time, reality TV is the choice for you!
  • Look for options from countries that speak the language. Shows originally produced in the language you’re learning will give you an opportunity to learn about new cultural aspects related to that language. For example, if you watch the French show *Call My Agent* (note: it's called *Dix pour cent* in French!) in French, you might learn something new about French workplaces or living in Paris.

At the end of the day though, the best thing to watch is something you're interested in so that you're motivated to pay attention to it! Here are some of our favorite movies and TV shows for learning different languages:

  • Chinese: Our Times, Lost on Journey, Our Shining Days, and American Dreams in China
  • French: Call My Agent, Lupin, Le Bureau des Légendes, Au Service de la France (its English title is A Very Secret Service), and Trotro (a children's cartoon)
  • German: Dark, Deutschland 83, Babylon Berlin, Das Leben der Anderen, Die Welle, Das Boot, and Gegen die Wand (literally "Against the Wall" but called Head-On in English)
  • Irish: The Quiet Girl (in Irish, An Cailín Ciúin), Róise & Frank, all of the Hector travel documentaries, Dochreidte Gan Dabht, and anything on channel TG4's website!
  • Japanese: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Your Name, Aggretsuko, and any other Studio Ghibli movie
  • Korean: Squid Game, Parasite, Train to Busan, Extraordinary Attorney Woo, 25 21, SKY Castle, Hospital Playlist, Crash Landing on You, and if you're interested in hearing unscripted, conversational language, check out the reality content that K-pop groups make themselves!
  • Portuguese: Coisa Mais Linda, Manhãs de Setembro, 3%, Que Horas Ela Volta? (its English title is The Second Mother), Minha Mãe é uma Peça, Glória, Os Nossos Dias, Until Life Do Us Part, and Bom Dia, Verônica. There are also great options on YouTube, including comedy sketches from Porta dos Fundos, interviews from Roda Viva, news from Nexo Jornal, and the cooking channel Panelinha!
  • Spanish: La Templanza, Las Chicas del Cable, La Casa de las Flores, Cómo Sobrevivir Soltero, Smiley, and Paquita Salas

Watch and learn!

Remember that there's no single best way to use TV to learn a language! Choose what to watch and how to watch it depending on your own goals and interests. So next time someone tells you to stop watching TV, tell them you're learning!