Everyone loves watching movies, right? Is that even a question?
Well, the good news is, it’s actually possible to learn to speak English more fluently by watching films!
Not only will you get the opportunity to listen to the correct pronunciation of English words, but by reading the subtitles you can expand your English vocabulary too!
But Can Watching a Movie Really Teach You English?
Yes! It’s a wonderful teaching aid for so many reasons. Firstly, watching a film is an engaging experience and often a welcome relief from dull textbooks and rigorous language classes.
You'll also get the chance to practise your listening skills and hear the practical application of all the grammar rules you've studied in your English lessons.
So What Are the Best Movies for Learning English?
Before you decide on what kind of movie to watch for the sake of practising speaking English, it’s a good idea to decide how advanced your language skills are.
If you’re a beginner then it’s probably better to try movies you’ve seen before. Another option is to watch films aimed at younger audiences such as animations. You’ll find these kinds of movies easier to follow and the English grammar and vocabulary won’t be too complex.
For intermediate English students, films with more sophisticated plots would be a lot more stimulating. Don’t be disheartened if you find a film too difficult at first, take it at your own pace and if it helps to watch the movie with the subtitles in your native language first then do so.
4 Must-Watch English Movies
The Social Network
Firstly, it’s the story about how social media began. The movie tells the story of a student of Harvard University, Mark Zuckerberg and how he revolutionised the way the world communicates today.
It’s all about the script (and therefore the dialogue). Aaron Sorkin is an accomplished script writer who has a reputation for creating humorous and relatable movies. The nice thing is that it is a very relevant topic. There's a lot of IT and social media lingo in the film which is also very helpful to learn and become familiar with.
This is all about the misadventures of four close friends who take a trip to Vegas just before one of the men’s wedding. What’s meant to be a Stag Party turns into a series of hilarious and disastrous events.
It’s really funny and filled with everyday English and slang. There’s a lot of dialogue to follow which makes it a great movie to watch if you want to take your conversational English to the next level.
Toy Story is an excellent animation that tells the story of a young boy named Andy and his love for his toys. The plot of the movie is driven by two toys who are rivals for Andy’s attention. Woody is a cowboy doll that Andy’s had for years and a new toy named Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger, that Andy receives for his birthday threatens Woody’s popularity with “his boy”.
Despite it being an animation that’s targeted towards kids, it’s a very entertaining film for kids and adults too with an impressive cast ensemble. Tom Hanks plays the voice of Woody and Tim Allen is Buzz Lightyear. The English is simple enough to follow but still engaging for audiences of all ages and filled with humour aimed to entertain the adults!
It’s an iconic, gritty movie that remains popular among Quentin Tarantino fans. If you’re looking for something a little more challenging and a film with dark humour then this is the one for you. The plot revolves around two killers and their adventures around L.A. It’s a movie that tells three different stories and how they connect.
This film is a brilliant mix of comedic dialogue and everyday English language.
No matter which movie you decide to begin watching, the outcome you'll be the same: you will be getting one step closer to becoming fluent in English.
Learning Classical English From Period Films
The Young Victoria
Produced by Martin Scorsese and written by Julian Fellowes, The Young Victoria is an excellent biographical drama that offers a remarkably accurate insight into the story behind Queen Victoria’s courtship with Prince Albert and her ascent to the throne.
The movie is filled with old-fashioned English language and shines a light on many customs that have fallen away in the English culture. This is a wonderful film to watch if you’re interested in the traditions of the UK as well as the royal family.
Pride and Prejudice
Based on one of Britain’s most extensively analysed novels by Jane Austen, this film is an excellent adaptation and boasts a cast of some of England’s finest actors such as Judi Dench and Keira Knightley.
Not only is the Pride and Prejudice movie a wonderful introduction to the classics of English literature, it’s also historically educational as it sheds light on the class system of England and provides a fine example of the manner of speaking in 18th century Britain.
Use Comedy as a Mode of Learning
The Spud films
The Spud novels written by John van de Ruit are the most endearingly funny ode to post apartheid youth era in South Africa. And the movie adaptation of these books has been a great success for the South African film industry.
Not only are these movies hilarious and filled with typical South African humour but the English is of a good standard without being overly complicated. This is a great option for South Africans that are learning English as a second language.
Another teen based film, Superbad was an unexpected box office hit grossing $170 million in the USA alone. The movie was an international success and is most famous for its scandalous humour. It’s one of those films that are impossible to appreciate fully if you’re watching the dubbed version.
This is an explosion of American teen slang and a must if you want to update your slang repertoire.
Focusing on Accents
Use These Films to Get Familiar With UK Accents
The King’s Speech
Because this film is all about one man’s struggle to speak clearly, it’s an obvious choice if you’re keen to improve your spoken English, especially if you’re interested in adopting a more British accent.
King George VI didn’t fit the ideal criteria for sovereignty, in fact he wasn’t even meant to inherit the throne of England but because his older brother abdicated the throne just a few years into his rule, George was forced to take on a role that shouldn’t have been his.
This movie tells the story of how Queen Elizabeth II actually ended up being first in line for the throne and of the tireless work her father, King George, put into ruling his nation.
But most of all it tells the story of a man who had suffered his whole life with a severe stutter and was terrified of public speaking, but overcame his hurdles and found solace in the hours of elocution lessons that prepared him for “the king’s speech”.
Ireland is a leading destination for students seeking to find English study opportunities through the Erasmus programme.
For South Africans, Ireland is a great option as it’s one of the few European and English speaking countries that don’t require visitor’s visas for South African passport holders.
Bloody Sunday is considered to be one of Irish cinema’s masterpieces and if you want to expand your understanding of foreign English accents then the Irish accent is as good a place as any to begin.
The film covers the tragic events that followed a peaceful protest in Derry on 30 January 1972. It will be a lesson in Irish/English history too and provides great insight into Ireland’s struggles towards peace and independence.
Improve Your American Accent With Movies From USA
Forrest Gump is one of those movies everyone should watch, whether you’re working on your English grammar and speaking skills or not. In 1994 Forrest Gump was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, winning Tom Hanks an Oscar for his leading role as Forrest.
Because the movie is about a young man who is intellectually challenged, much of the dialogue is spoken at a slower pace making it easier for non-native English speakers to understand. The movie is also provides a fantastic glimpse into major historical events that shaped American society such as the Vietnam war and hippy movement.
Gone with the Wind
An all time classic Saga adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind will provide hours of entertainment and American-English dialogue.
Set in the pre and post Civil War era on the cotton plantations of the South, this movie casts an old-fashioned light on American civil war history. If you’re interested in the southern accents of Louisiana and Alabama then this is the film for you.
Keep It Local With South African Films
Material is brilliantly funny South African film that displays the very best of local talent, heart and humour is regarded as one of the best original South African films.
The movie provides a sincere portrayal of the Muslim culture in South Africa, telling the story of an aspiring stand-up comedian who struggles to gain his father’s approval for his career choices.
What makes this movie such a wonderful showcase of the South African English accent is that it’s very dialogue based and is spoken with great clarity, as well as the fact that there are characters from different cultures, showcasing the variation in our local English dialects.
Hollywood Movies Filmed in RSA
The Kissing Booth 1 & 2
Although these teen romantic comedies star Hollywood actors, most of the filming was done in Cape Town and some of the smaller roles are actually played by local actors! In fact, UCT was used as the location for many of the school scenes.
Like most romantic movies, The Kissing Booth provides the viewer with loads of dialogue and thus loads of opportunity to master your English pronunciation.
More Tips on How to Improve Your English With Movies
Watch a Movie You’re Familiar With
Beginners will be better off watching movies they’ve seen before. If you understand the plot of a movie from watching the version that was dubbed into your native language, then watching the original English version will make so much more sense.
Understanding the plot means that you can concentrate on grammar rules and new English words instead of trying to follow the story.
Turn on the Subtitles
If you’re only starting to learn the English language then subtitles can be very useful.
Some people believe that if you want to improve your fluency in English you should switch off the subtitles, but this isn’t always the case.
It may be worthwhile to watch a movie with the subtitles of your native language first and then when you’re confident you understand the plot you can move on to English subtitles.
The value of subtitles is that it provides the opportunity for you to work on your reading skills and improve your spelling while at the same time improving your spoken language.
Take Baby Steps
The last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself with a movie that is too complex. Focus on having fun while learning a new language and look for films that appeal to your interests and that suit your level of comprehension.
If it means watching a children’s animation then that’s perfect, there is no right or wrong on the journey to learning to speak English.
If the concentration of watching an entire film in English makes you tired, then break it up into smaller chunks and watch 20 – 30 minutes at a time instead.
When you’ve watched a short section of the movie, take a rest. Do something different like eating a snack or face-timing an English speaking friend. Just like any other form of studying, you need to take consistent breaks in order to keep up your concentration.
Don’t Be Scared of Repetition
It’s to be expected that you’ll end up, not only watching an entire English film over and over again, but also having to go over the same scene a few times to really grasp what’s going on, especially if you encounter an unfamiliar word or if you’re unsure about how to use a specific verb that you see in a sentence.
Press pause, hit rewind – it’s all okay and part of the process.
This is also how you can work on your pronunciation; you can copy English words and phrases until you feel happy with the way you’re pronouncing the words. There are so many ways to learn to speak English well and repetition is one of them.
Stick to Movies That Interest You
As we’ve mentioned, there’s no good spending hours watching a TV screen if you’re not even interested in what you’re watching. There may be many recommendations but ultimately it’s up to you to decide which movies you’ll use to start learning to speak English fluently.
Invite Your English Speaking Buddies to a Movie Night
If you have friends that are first-language English speakers then that’s a great advantage and you should make the most of it.
Watching a film with friends is always a lot of fun and the great part is that you can ask them to explain anything to you that you find confusing and use the time as an opportunity to practise your conversational English.
Putting Theory to Practice
ESOL courses can tend to teach a lot of English vocabulary and grammatical rules in a very formal way that doesn’t match the way someone would converse in their mother-tongue.
So, watching a movie helps to merge all the reading and writing theory you’ve learned with the reality of everyday English.
You won’t ever want to watch a dubbed move again after seeing the real thing!
Make Learning English From Movies Fun and Personal
The nice thing about using films as part of the learning process is that there’s just so much to choose from and you can decide on the kind of film that suits your personal taste.
A good way of finding movies that appeal to you is by looking out for your favourite directors.
One of the bonuses of using film to learn English as a second language is that there’s just so much variety. There are more English films out there than any other foreign language which is a great advantage for ESOL students.
You’ll learn so many communication skills in English by taking note of the intonation and expressions that the actors use when they’re conversing on screen.
There’s never been a better excuse to grab the snacks, jump on the couch and kick back!
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