Can we learn a language just by watching TV?

We’ve all heard that it’s much easier to learn a language as a child rather than as an adult. But can we learn a language by watching a TV series or a soap opera?

Take the curious case of two sisters, Israel Reut and Shoham Nistel, who watched an Argentinian soap opera after coming home from school for five years. Their Spanish became so good that they started to speak it to each other at home so their parents wouldn’t understand what they were saying.

For the experts, this was no fluke. If we watch TV continuously in a foreign language and in particular, we may end up being able to speak that language.

So, what do we need to do to learn a language from the TV?

There are three key things to bear in mind.

  • First, choose an appealing programme that will hold our attention. For example, the Nistel sisters saw all the episodes of the Argentinian soap opera “Chiquititas”, which was massively popular among teenagers in the 1990s.
  • Next, you should always watch with the subtitles on so that you can recognize the written form of new words.
  • Finally, there should be a repetitive element to the series’s storylines. For example, the American series, “Friends”, deals with a range of similar issues focusing on a group of twenty-somethings who live in New York.

One final thing: although watching TV can be a really useful activity for language learners, it’s important to complement this with learning the grammar and structure of the target language if you want to become truly proficient.


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