How Watching TV Can Develop Language skills

Are there any types doing a PhD reading this blog?  I doubt it, they would not find much of interest here, unless they are doing sociology perhaps.

Anyway, as you may know, I teach English for a living and I am forever hammering on about the benefits of regularly watching English language TV to my students. I also explain that even though they may believe that they are only understanding a tiny bit of what is being said, this is not true because their brains are absorbing and connecting a lot more than they think.

Watching television regularly, even terrible Italian television, does seem to be beneficial for language learners.  It’s not too difficult to understand why when you think about it.

You Hear Vocabulary in Context

Firstly, you stand a chance of hearing all the vocabulary you know, and then some, in a very short space of time and your brain will go ‘I know that word’ and its level in the ranking in the ‘familiarly used words category’ in your brain will increase.  In simple terms you will remember this word more easily and thus be able to recognise it when it is spoken and probably be able to use it correctly too.

Connecting Actions and Words

Another good reason for watching TV is the visual correlation between the language used and the context in which it is used, especially in action sequences.

For some reason our brains find pictures very stimulating and thus find it easier to connect words to actions – the net result being you understand more.  This is probably because the combination of words and pictures allows you to fix the context more easily.  Telephone conversations often scare language learners simply because they cannot see who they are speaking to.

More Reasons to Watch Television

Need more reasons/excuses to watch TV?  OK, when you are learning another language you often have one or two teachers. This means you will become familiar with the language spoken by others who have the same accent/personality, but you may be stumped by someone saying the same things, but with a different accent, or tone.  Enter TV, again.

On TV you get to hear a huge variety of regional accents, which after a time, almost automatically raises your ability to comprehend language when it is spoken by someone whose accent is unfamiliar.

Any Studies Please?

There are many other advantages, probably too many to list here, but what I would like to know is whether anyone has ever studied/analysed the effects of watching television on language learners. If the answer is yes, can you let me know where I can read this study?

If no-one has done such a study, then they could give this idea some thought.  The benefits of such a study would be more efficient listening materials or even establishing a link between exactly how many hours of listening are necessary to attain a certain level of comprehension.

No Subtitles

Oh and television is more effective probably because there are no subtitles.  I always suggest that learners watch films and the like with the subtitles turned off.  This prevents them from reading, and, I believe, forces their brains to do more ‘processing’.

The Ultimate Comprehension Test – Radio

If you really want to know how good your comprehension is, listen to the radio in your target language.  If you can understand just about everything, then your comprehension skills are excellent.

The Italian Problem

With regard to English language television, Italy has a problem. bThe availability of English language television here is limited to BBC World –if you have Fastweb digital TV and whatever you get with Sky.

Update: May 2009 – Fastweb’s digital television offering has expanded enormously since I wrote this post, and there is much more content which can be watched in English, including quite a few free movies.  All you have to do is change the language via the Fastweb remote control, and, grumble, grumble, subtitles can be viewed too.

Sky, too, has plenty of content in English, and may well be worth paying for just for this.

Having programs in English is potentially very useful for Italians trying to learn the language.

In my not so humble opinion the Italian government should provide everyone with a selection of foreign language TV stations, but then I always have been something of an idealist.

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