How to Improve Your English Skills By Watching Television

For years we have been led to believe that watching television while studying, or instead of studying, will rarely lead to any academic gain. It comes as a delight to some students to know that this belief has been somewhat turned on its head because watching television can assist some students of non-English speaking backgrounds to learn and develop confidence in speaking the English language.

Television can enhance the learning that occurs through a course at an English language school. Australia is home to many respected and credible training institutions.

How is this possible?

Because many people want to learn English, television programs offer one way to pick up conversational English skills and new words. However, the process of learning to speak English requires a student to be far more active than simply turning on the TV and watching. Unfortunately, English language will not be automatically added to your vocabulary through passive activity.

It is possible to add new phrases and words to your vocabulary by watching TV. By memorizing, practicing and applying new phrases and words, confidence grows and a person becomes more adept at using words and phrases in context.

Speak, speak, speak…

No matter what method you employ to try to improve your English, it is critical that you put the knowledge and skills into practice by speaking. This means that in order to become a more proficient speaker, you must speak in English as often as possible.

Active and passive vocabulary:

The act of watching television has the potential to assist you to improve your English but rarely will any improvement be noticed until you begin to work on your active and not just your passive vocabulary. It is important to distinguish the difference between active and passive vocabulary:

  • Passive vocabulary is the words you can recognise but have little or no skill in using because you lack practice in using those particular words and phrases.
  • Active vocabulary relates to the range of words you speak and use. These words tend to be used many times over and spoken when engaging in conversations with others.

Although watching television can certainly improve your ability to understand English (passive vocabulary), it will only help with your conversational skills if effort is made to practise the words learned and use them in conversation.

When watching TV:

  • Keep a notepad and pen with you. Write down the words and phrases that you hear and wish to develop confidence in using (no more than 7 per day). Resist the temptation to translate these words into your first language. Doing so can slow your progress and, from a learning perspective, it is far more beneficial to describe or explain them using English words, no matter how simple they may be. It is also important to try to record the context in which a word or phrase was used. This can have numerous advantages when using the word(s) yourself.
  • Consider using the subtitles feature of your television. Of course the idea is not that you will just read the subtitles, but will really listen to the dialogue. The benefit of using subtitles is that they can help you to more quickly understand what is being said, particularly if there is a lot of action occurring in the background. Similarly, slang words and expressions can sometimes make it more difficult to interpret what is being said. If you can do without the subtitles of a particular film or program, keep them off, but if you struggle with the language used and words delivered at a fast pace, subtitles can be helpful.

What to do with these words:

By watching television or a film, you are likely to have acquired a number of new phrases. Experts recommend that you concentrate on learning 7 new phrases per day as slow but thorough expansion of vocabulary tends to have the longest and most successful result. If you practise and repeat these words and phrases out loud each day, you are bound to notice improvements in the ways you use – and your confidence with – the English language.

Can I watch anything?

If you have limited English skills, soap operas are suggested as the most suitable type of program to watch and from which to learn. When a person is more confident and experienced, reality TV shows are a good idea because they feature more colloquial and less formal language delivered at a faster pace.

Television can be an invaluable tool to help students develop their English speaking skills.

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