Great movies and TV shows to help you learn new languages

by Tabby Farrar

When you’re trying to learn a new language, they say immersion is one of the most useful tactics. However, realistically, most of us spend our time using apps, phrasebooks and basic conversation to try and pick up new languages – not jetting off on holidays abroad.

If you’re trying to learn a second (or third, or fourth) language, and are on the hunt for some great entertainment that will help to improve your ability to listen and understand, here are a few ideas that might pique your interest. To get the biggest boost, watch these with accompanying subtitles in the language you’re trying to learn – having both text and audio in the new language can help to increase the connections your brain forms between written and spoken words and their meanings.

For learning Spanish

Los Tiempos de Pablo Escobar – Netflix

Available in Spanish and with Spanish subtitles, this two-part documentary offers historical perspectives on the famous drug lord fictionalised by Netflix’s hit series Narcos.

Documentary narrators tend to speak more slowly and articulately than characters in soap operas and other dramas, and will usually use standard dialects rather than slang or business language. This means that documentaries are often a great pick for language learning, and with Spanish subtitles on hand here to help keep things clear you should be able to enjoy the show.

The Magic School Bus - Netflix (overdubbed)

Kids’ shows are great for beginners trying to pick up new languages, because they’re always written with simple terms and tend to have well-enunciated audio. The Magic School Bus has a slightly older target audience than things like Peppa Pig or Dora the Explorer, so should keep your attention as well as teaching you new skills.

The Magic School Bus is available with Spanish audio as well as English, so take advantage of it! You may need to log in to Spanish Netflix in order to access the right version, but that’s easy to do by simply using a VPN app to switch your online location to Spain rather than wherever you really are.

For learning French

Les Grandes Grandes Vacances - Netflix (overdubbed)

Another great show aimed at children, this one – The Long, Long Holiday – tells the story of two children living in France during World War 2. With simple language aimed at children aged 10 and up, the story of the show is something that should also easily hold adult attention.

Netflix dub this in English by default, so make sure you switch the audio settings to French before you start watching. As with the Spanish options, if you can’t find this on your Netflix account you may need to switch your location to France before tuning in.

Plus Belle La Vie - YouTube

While French humour may take a little while for beginners to pick up, once you’ve got a basic understanding of the language this is a great show to help you advance.

The serial drama Plus Belle La Vie follows the lives of ordinary fictional people living in Marseille, and the language you’ll hear revolves around everything from love and friendship to casual attempts at solving everyday mysteries. You can watch much of the ongoing series on YouTube, or tune in via the French channel TV5Monde.

For learning Italian

La Vita è Bella - YouTube / Amazon Video

Meaning ‘Life is Beautiful’, this is one of Italy’s most famous films. Another Second World War piece, this is a great movie that will have you gripped right to the end. Even though it covers a mature topic, the language of the film is kept very simple, meaning it shouldn’t be too challenging to understand.

You can watch La Vita è Bella on YouTube, and if you find you’re struggling to keep up you could watch it first in English with Italian subtitles and then with the original Italian audio.

Come Fai Sbagli - YouTube

Infused with as much humour as drama, you can hear Italian being spoken by people of all ages throughout this modern family TV series. Rather than solely childlike or adult language, treat your ears to audio from teenagers, young children and parents, all using everyday conversational words and phrases.

As well as brushing up on your informal Italian, you can also use this series to pick up some Italian pop culture knowledge and common colloquial terms. Get to know your ‘che palle!’ from your ‘che bello!’ with ease.

There are worse ways to learn a new skill than sitting down to a Netflix binge, so get the popcorn ready – and maybe a notepad and pen – and prepare to test yourself while absorbing tonnes of useful new language.

About the writer

Tabby Farrar is a professional researcher and copywriter, who collaborates with a number of VPN services as well as running her own website, Just Can’t Settle.


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