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Turn it Off! How What You are Watching May be Hindering Your Progress in a Language

Star Trek Scene in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese

I can still remember that moment. Every language learner has one if they stick with a language long enough. For me it was back in 1989 when my first foreign language, Spanish, finally "clicked". I had been studying Spanish off and on in school and at home for about seven years and could engage in simple conversations with people at work and in stores, peruse the few resources I could find and get the gist of what most people were saying, but I still did not "feel" like a speaker of the language. I found myself frequently lost in the jumble of sounds I was hearing (especially between two native speakers) and I felt that I would never be able to learn enough vocabulary.

One afternoon, I was watching a television program (an episode of the Spanish talk show Christina) and the topic of the program was so interesting and so engaging for me that it was not until after it was over that I suddenly realized I had understood every single thing that had been said. I was so interested in "what" was being said that I completely forgot about the fact that I had been watching a program in another language. I was watching the program because I wanted to, not because I was deliberately trying to learn the language.

Let's be realistic – not every part of the language learning process is thrilling and exciting. However, when it comes to realia such as movies, television programs, novels and magazines, there is absolutely no reason in the world that using them shouldn't be enjoyable!

Gone are the days when we had only a few movies on grainy VHS tape, virtually no access to foreign language television and we were lucky if we could find some outdated printed matter written for native speakers. Today, with the internet and sites like YouTube, on-line access to streaming foreign television stations and satellite television as well as the ability to read foreign language articles and novels on-line, there simply is no longer any reason (unless it's for a homework assignment) to struggle through something we don't like.

Think about it. When you watch TV at home and there is something on that you don't like, do you sit there and watch it anyway? No, you change the channel (unless, of course, it's something your significant other is watching – then I suggest you not do that). The same is true with movies. I'll give the movie a maximum of about 15-20 minutes and if I am not interested in what is going on, I will simply turn it off. Perhaps it is a program that you normally enjoy, but for some reason it's not capturing your attention today. Turn it off and return to it later.

There is so much content available now that unless it is required for your job or a specific project, there is no reason to waste your time with something that doesn't interest you. This is also true if what you are watching or reading is too difficult for you. Sometimes it is not the language itself that is the problem, but the fact that you are missing something due to your lack of cultural or pop-culture knowledge.

When we watch a movie in English and the characters are "quirky", "odd" or "eccentric", we know that this is intentional and meant to be humorous or for exaggerated effect. However, when we are watching something produced from and for another culture, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate this exaggeration from reality.

"Why are they acting so bizarre? Is that how French people behave? No sane person would react that way to that situation!" If this happens, chances are that you are just not "getting it" yet.

Don't despair. There is no shame in putting something away to watch or read later when your skills have improved. In fact, it can be gratifying to later understand something that was previously incomprehensible to you because it is proof of your progress. Stick with those materials that are enjoyable and you will use them more often. Use them more often and you will make consistent progress and one day have your own language "moment".

Star Trek Scene in Japanese

See also:
How to Use the Hidden of Context to Boost Your Foreign Language Vocabulary
Huge List of TV Shows with audio in other Languages Available on U.S. Netflix
International Versions of Popular Reality and Game Show Franchises

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