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Can TV Help You Learn a Foreign Language?

By Alison at Accredited Language
Posted on Friday, April 2, 2010
Category: Languages, Languages, Technology, Technology, Television

The question of whether it’s possible to learn a second language by watching foreign language TV has long been a point of debate among language teachers and students. While some decry the use of television as a teaching tool, others don’t consider it a problem.

Should you turn on some foreign language TV programs if you want to learn a language?

Pros and Cons of Foreign Language TV

Some language teachers believe that foreign language TV can help students improve listening skills, exposing them to the language when it is spoken at “real world” pace.

Foreign language TV can also be an enjoyable means of picking up vocabulary and colloquial phrases, and generally just immersing oneself in a language.

However, foreign language TV has its drawbacks. Watching foreign language TV may actually hinder a student’s listening comprehension skills. With the visual aid of TV, students are more likely to depend on actors’ facial expressions and changes in the scenery to figure out the dialogue or storyline. For this reason, many language teachers find radio to be a better means of improving listening comprehension skills.

Another possible solution to this problem is turning on the subtitles. This helps draw students’ attention back to the language and can be helpful in understanding proper pronunciation.

Cultural Benefits of Foreign Language TV

Studying a foreign language is implicitly linked to the process of learning about the culture that accompanies the language. An English speaker learning French, for example, may be utterly confused by the fact that the French language calls for a differentiation between a casual and formal “you” (“tu” and “vous,” respectively).

These types of linguistic details require some level of cultural understanding. This is where foreign language TV can come in handy. By watching foreign language TV shows, people can observe and learn about the customs and mannerisms of a culture which are intertwined with a language, including when to use the appropriate form of “you.”

Learning Languages Takes More than TV

It’s obvious that mastering a foreign language will take more than just sitting on the couch and staring at the TV screen for a couple hours per day.

While watching foreign language TV in the comfort of your home can be a wonderful way to expose yourself to a language, it shouldn’t be your only means of exposure to that language. Learning grammatical structures, memorizing vocabulary, practicing speaking with others — all of these aspects are necessary parts of learning a foreign language, and watching foreign language TV doesn’t cover them.

Although it takes more than TV to become skilled at a language, that doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate foreign language TV into learning. As with anything, learning a language will be easier if you enjoy the process.

Watching foreign films or indulging in the guilty pleasure of a Spanish telenovela will help remind you why you wanted to learn a foreign language in the first place and will keep you motivated!

One Response to “Can TV Help You Learn a Foreign Language?”

  1. Janine Libbey Says:

    For visual learners, tv would certainly make the learning process easier (and more enjoyable!). Learners who don’t have the luxury of immersion in a country where the foreign language is spoken will find that television and radio are the best substitutes for that kind of experience.

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