“Watch films in English”. “Read English books”. “Listen to English”. These are the classic recommendations learners of English get in order to work on their English outside class. But how useful are they to lower level learners, and what are the alternatives? (View an infographic about this post.)
We all need to have some leisure time in order to stay healthy, happy and motivated. While it’s true that we’d rather have fun than work, a good balance between both is best.
The same happens when we learn a language. Yes, you need to review vocabulary and practise new structures, but you also have to enjoy yourself while learning a new language. It’s the best part of it and you will continue learning, often without noticing. It will boost not only your English but also your motivation and, ultimately, your self-confidence.
The most popular ways to work on your English in a fun way is by watching films or series, by reading books, or listening to music.
But not anything goes. What you need is fun that suits your level. If it feels like hard work rather than like fun, then it is probably not quite the right thing.
Therefore, don’t aim too high, especially if you are an Elementary or Pre-Intermediate level. Pick something that makes you feel good. If it doesn’t, drop it, and look for something where your can really feel at home.
So let’s look at the different options in two ways: The harder way, and the easier way.
The harder way
Most people enjoy watching films. A standard piece of advice given to language learners is that they should watch films in English, if possible with English subtitles.
This method can teach higher level learners of English a lot in terms of pronunciation, expressions, colloquial English. However, lower level learners might end up feeling frustrated and bored.
After all, films are long. The language is usually authentic, often containing slang, regional accents or unclear pronunciation. People speak quickly or over each other, and there can be background noise such as traffic, shooting, the sea, etc. Moreover, if the words and expressions are unknown to you, subtitles may not be very conclusive, either.
All this can make watching a whole film in original version a challenge, even if you have seen it in your own language first.
In terms of length it may therefore be more advisable to watch a series. Many people follow one or several of them, and are passionate about them.
The episodes of most series are not as long as films. However, some very popular series are based on long, complex dialogues, or use specialized language. I recommend that you ask around, let your family, friends and colleagues give you tips, and try them out until you have found a series you enjoy and feel comfortable watching.
Books are definitely a vocabulary booster. But if you are a Pre-Intermediate learner, trying to read an original novel is not only hard work, but can also give you the feeling that your English is deficient.
Nevertheless, if you decide to stick with your novel, here are a few tips.
- Don’t stop at every new word in order to look it up. It will only spoil your fun. Only stop if absolutely necessary.
- Instead, read on and try to understand as many new words as you can from the context.
- Note down the new words, with the page number.
- Only when you have finished reading a chapter, look them up one by one. That way you will also review the text you have just read.
The easier way
So, in order to avoid frustration, let’s step it down a bit – and watch children’s programmes. Their language and vocabulary are aimed at children of all ages and might be better suited to your level of English. And well, considering that learning a new language is a bit like growing up from child to teenager to adult, it is often a good idea to start by watching children’s shows.
So don’t be embarrassed; no need to feel ridiculous! Instead, see it as a way to start picking up more and more English at your level, and feel the satisfaction when you realize you can follow the story and can move on to something more challenging: YouTube.
YouTube offers an endless number of high-quality channels which are fascinating to watch, and that you can subscribe to according to your interests. (I obviously love those that deal with English.) YouTube videos are usually not too long, and remember they often have subtitles, too. Before you know it, you will have learnt a good number of new words and expressions from watching those videos.
The same goes for books. Instead of working hard on an original novel, switch to graded readers. They are adapted to all levels from Beginner to Advanced, and usually come with a CD, so you can both read and listen. And if you can get hold of books for young children, try those, too!
Another great way to enjoy yourself with authentic but shorter texts are blogs or magazines. The variety is immense, and there is something for everyone: art, computing, cooking, DIY, fashion, films, gardening, parenting, psychology, sports … you name it. Even though articles are not necessarily easy to read, they are usually not too long, and they relate to your hobby while teaching you something new.
Comics are also a recommendable kind of lecture. They are very visual, with short texts, as well as entertaining and motivating to read.
The CDs that come with graded readers are obviously also adapted to each level. You will therefore listen to English at your level, plus you will have the book to read along, if you like or need to.
Finally, songs. They are great fun, and listening to them with the lyrics is the best method to get the best out of a song. Even though lyrics are sometimes not very substantial or their message can be hard to interpret, listening to songs helps greatly with the pronunciation and rhythm of a language. Again, the choice is entirely up to you and your preferences. And sing along as much as you can, imitate what you hear.
Which option do you find works best for you? Do you have any other tips for having fun with English?
Here is an infographic about this post.