Watching TV Programmes to Improve English

I often have students tell me that they try to understand films and TV programmes in English as a way of learning the language. More often than not, this claim is quickly followed up by the student telling me they get very disillusioned because they end up not understanding very much at all. My first reaction is to congratulate my students for trying to learn from a real source of English, tell them why they might be having difficulties and then give them a 3-point-plan for doing it in the future with more success.

Why is it so difficult?

Basically, I think there are three reasons students fail to understand and learn from films and TV programmes. The first is that there are often cultural references that they could never understand, even if they understood all of the words. This isn’t just restricted to programmes in a foreign language because it could also be a generational thing or even a geographical aspect. One of my favourite TV programmes ever is The Wire, but a lot of it went over my head because they were making references to things happening in Baltimore, in the USA over 10 years ago.

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