During my years as a French professor and tutor, I’ve made it a priority to share French films with my students on a regular basis. Not only because it is a welcome break from drilling the passé composé and the subjunctif, but also because I believe watching films in the target language is one of the best ways to learn how people actually speak in that language. Yes, you’ve got your textbooks, and you’ve learned all of the correct ways to ask questions and to talk about yourself, your family, and what you’re doing with your life. But what happens when you travel to Paris and someone uses slang with you? Or when they omit the “ne” in “ne…pas” almost every time? Or when they use sounds like “ben” (which actually sounds like “bah”) the way we might use “um”? Or when they speak so quickly that a whole sentence sounds like one long jumbled, but very beautiful, word? Will you understand what they’re saying? Perhaps…but perhaps not.
Watching French films will help you get one step closer to comprehending and speaking the true français that is spoken in France. I have specific recommendations for watching films in a foreign language which I share with all of my students, and which I’m excited to share with you today. While I’m using French as an example, these recommendations will work for any language you are learning.
*Remember that it’s important to choose a film you enjoy watching because you’re going to watch it more than a few times. You may need to purchase the DVD so that you have the option to change the subtitle language, or check your personal TV/Apple TV/Netflix settings to be sure you can change the subtitle language.
- Watch the film in French (or in your target language) with English subtitles (or with the subtitles of your native language), but listen very closely to the spoken French as you read the English. Do your best not to tune out the French as you read. The whole point is for you to begin associating the words and expressions you are hearing with the meaning you’re reading in the subtitles. Have patience with yourself if you don’t hear or understand every word–that’s normal.
- Watch that same film at least once or twice more with English subtitles so that you truly begin to comprehend more words and expressions as you watch. Keep a notebook handy to jot down new and interesting vocabulary words and expressions.
- Now watch that same film again, but this time change the subtitles into French. So now you are hearing and reading only French (or whatever your target language is). Watch the movie at least once or twice more (preferably many times!) in this way. Soon, you’ll begin to have parts of the movie memorized the way you may have done with movies you watched obsessively as a kid. Except this time, it’s in a foreign language! Continue to jot down new words and expressions you’re learning and have fun with this! It’s okay if you don’t understand everything they’re saying even after watching the movie ten times. I guarantee that you will still walk away from this exercise with stronger comprehension skills which will transfer into your speaking.
- Eventually, watch the movie as many times as possible without any subtitles at all! You now know what’s going on in the film so you’ll be solely focused on hearing and comprehending the target language. When you look back at the progress you’ve made from the very first time you’ve watched the film until now, you’ll be amazed. And hopefully because you chose a film you enjoy, you will have had fun in the process!
I hope these tips help you in your language learning process as much as they have helped me and my students! I’ll write more posts on specific French films I would recommend, but here are a few I’ve enjoyed recently:
“Le Prénom” or “What’s in a Name?” ~ Starring Patrick Bruel, written and directed by Alexandre de La Patellière and Matthieu Delaporte, released in 2012.
“Ange & Gabrielle” or “Love at First Child” ~Starring Isabelle Carré and Patrick Bruel, written and directed by Anne Giafferi, released in 2015.
And one of my all-time favorites…
“Une Rencontre” or “Quantum Love” ~Starring Sophie Marceau and François Cluzet, written and directed by Lisa Azuelos, released in 2014.
If you have other French film recommendations or film-watching tips to share, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you! Enjoy!