Friday, March 27, 2009

watching TV really helps!

Whether used exclusively or as an addition, watching TV in your target language helps people to acquire fluency. One of the Japanese people I met when I briefly taught English conversation was not a student but rather a teacher just like us Americans, Australians, Brits, Canadians, and Kiwis. She had a perfect American accent and you would never suspect that she grew up in Japan. When I asked her about how she learned English, she told me about watching US TV shows repeatedly and even memorizing the lines in the shows.

I also have a coworker from Sri Lanka who speaks Japanese very fluently. He is much better at Japanese than I. His advice to me was to watch Japanese TV. He credits his fluency in Japanese to watching TV. Before he started watching lots of TV, he said used to have a hard time with Japanese.

There is also a comment on Steve's blog about watching TV that is not dubbed into your own language by Jamie.

Steve, your point about TV programme dubbing is an important one which is often understated. I live in Holland, where nearly everyone speaks English. Kids are already functional well before the age when they receive formal English at school (not until 11 by the way). The reason is exposure, and by having a wealth of English-speaking programmes, films, cartoons etc. on TV that they like watching. i.e. Meaningful input.

My Dutch neighbours speak excellent English, not through schooling or of necessity through work, friends etc., but by what they watch on TV: English programmes and films (often using Dutch or even English subtitles). They have made this point themselves.

The situation is not the same in other European countries, such as France and Italy, where programme dubbing is commonplace. And the average standard of English in these countries is much lower, despite the fact that English is taught in schools.

I think one of the reasons that TV is such a great tool would be that you can get lots of input from TV. You don't need a native speaker or a teacher or a tutor. You can get as much input as you want from TV without relying on anyone else.


  1. thanks for the reassurance. I also love seeing your spreadsheet of hours completed. good idea

  2. Hi Keith,

    I live in the Netherlands and must say: Dutch television isn't always good for your English progress. Often the subtitles are inaccurate and people that simply don't listen will have a waaaaay lower level after years (I've seen it countless times). Better would be getting rid of subtitles and ban dubbing (they're doing it more and more the last few years) so that people really get an understanding of English.

    However, I like your experiment, but do have a question: I really want to learn Mandarin in the near future and wanted to do it with the AJATT method (proven to be extremely effective; it's how I learned Spanish) which more or less means the same. But still, Khatzumoto states that it's best to learn how to read/write FIRST (while getting massive amounts of input). Also, most TV in Mainland China and Taiwan has subtitles. The case is: I know like three characters in Chinese, so would I really need to get stuff without subtitles (which is extremely difficult for me at this moment), or can I enjoy the materials (while having the "risk" of picking up some characters)?

  3. Another great post. When learning a language like Arabic it takes a while before you're able to memorize, or even just repeat what is being said on TV. I've been studying for 2 years now and I can repeat anything said in MSA (the formal language), but in the dialects sometimes it still just sounds like a bunch of weird sounds. I have no doubt that continuing to watch will slowly improve my skills and I will be as good in the dialects as I am in the formal language. Watching TV and movies is really all you need to learn a language. It's so simple that people don't want to believe that it works.

  4. Ramses,

    My preferred methods are based upon the principles of natural language acquisition. What this means is that I want to learn a language without training myself to think about the language. Learning characters first goes against these ideals. I could easily write a long post on this to explain further but I'll save that for another time.

    You can buy the materials which have the Chinese subtitles. Just don't be staring at the subtitles. If you see them just take yours eyes off of them quickly. At your level of familiarity with characters I am sure you won't pick up any without trying as long as you don't put effort into it. For me, on the other hand, I can recognize characters instantly and that will causes me to think about meanings. For you, because you haven't even studied any, the image of the characters will either be a blur, or they will disappear right away.

  5. Keith, I found your site because I have been trying to the same thing (watching Thai TV as input) and I wanted to see what the consensus was on how much should you understand the input and your site was one that came up. But my question is - during the first few hundred hours - the silent period - should one try an study any other materials i.e text books, audio tapes etc. Or should you just try and take in as much input during the silent period without thinking about the language in translation or written form? I hope this makes sense. Great site by the way.

  6. Hi 10%

    Natural language acquisition (the aim of the TV method) means learning a language without studying. It is believed that trying to study will limit your final results. So my answer to your question is that you should not study. Until you reach 60% understanding of the language, you should not speak, not look up words, not take notes, and not analyze the language. Speaking is something that happens naturally and not something to force yourself to do.


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