Choose movies you already know. If you’re a beginner or a lower level, it’s best to choose a movie that you’ve already watched before. Why? It’s simple because you already know the plot (the main story). This time, you can focus on the language itself instead of trying to follow a new story.
Use subtitles. Just because you’re using subtitles, it doesn’t mean that you’re cheating because you’re still hearing English audio. If you’re of a lower level, use subtitles in your own language until you feel more comfortable watching the movie without them. If you’re of a more advanced level, challenge yourself a little bit and step out of your comfort zone and watch a movie with English subtitles. You don’t have to follow with them word for word as this can be quite tiring, instead just use them to get the gist (the idea) of something if the speech becomes too fast or the language is too colloquial (casual language) that you can’t understand what the characters are saying.
Start small. Don’t know if you can handle watching an epic all the way through in English and understand it? Don’t watch it! Choose movie that is relatively short and avoid any movie that involves a deeper level of understanding of history or culture as its likely going to consume your thoughts and you won’t be able to focus on the language as much.
Break it up. If you find watching the movie in English tiring, break it up a little. Watch the movie in 30 minute parts. After you’ve watched one part, do something else. Grab a drink, eat something, check your inbox, whatever, it doesn’t matter as long as you can remain focused during the parts. Watching a full movie in only English can be really overwhelming and also frustrating especially if you’re straining yourself to understand, which is why it’s a good idea to watch it in smaller parts.
Listen and repeat. The beauty of watching a recorded movie online or on a DVD is that you’re able to pause and go back if you don’t understand – something you can’t do with your English teachers in the classroom. Go back to a part you didn’t understand and say it out loud. Repeat it a few times and read what the subtitles say. Verbally repeating something you hear is a great way of perfecting a natural sounding accent, this is something which is a little bit more difficult in a language classroom as it leaves us feeling silly sometimes – in your own bedroom there’s no need for shame, repeat as much as you like until you get it right!
Watch movies you enjoy. Don’t like drama? Don’t watch them! Don’t like lovey dovey romance? Don’t watch them! There are literally thousands and thousands of movies out there and there’s something for everyone’s taste. Choose movies with the genre (kind of movie e.g. romance, horror) that you prefer as you’re more likely to take something away from it and learn. If you force yourself to watch movies that aren’t the slightest bit interesting to you in terms of story, you’re going to struggle and you may as well head back to your English language lessons if that’s the case.
Focus on movies from one country. As you know English is spoken throughout the world in different countries but when you’re trying to learn English it’s better to stick to one area as the language tends to vary as does the accent. Choose the country which interests you most and start with these movies (until you become more confident at least). Most ESL learners prefer to learn English from American movies because they’re more familiar with the culture and the accents tend to be easier to understand compared to other English speaking countries.
Watch them with friends. Do you have some buddies who also want to perfect their English skills? Pair up and catch a movie together. Not only are you getting to hang out with your friends, but you’ll also be able to fill each other in on different parts you don’t understand. Want to take it a little further? Grab a coffee after the movie and discuss your opinions and favorite parts of the movie (all in English of course).
Keep a movie journal. Heard a phrase or word you loved? Want to be able to use in the future? Write it down! While you watch your movies, pause the video when you hear something that you might find useful in the future and write it down in a journal. This way you’re collecting ‘authentic’ real-life phrases that you can practice and use on your English speaking friends in the future (as long as they’re not offensive of course).
Some movies that might help you learn English: