Using Television to Improve Your English Speaking and Comprehension Skills

When I studied in Russia a few years ago, I stayed in a dormitory with students from all over the world, from Europe to Africa to both the Americas and more. While all the students were there to learn Russian, our common language -the common language of the world- was English. Although English was my first language, the vast majority of students spoke English as their second language. I was interested by how some ESL speakers were far more advanced than others in their speaking skills.

The most impressive student told me he never took a formal class—he learned everything he knew from watching television, mostly cartoons and MTV. I myself learned Spanish predominantly from watching Mexican soap operas. Here are a few tips for using the communicative power of television to improve your English language skills.

1. Start out with using captions

Some people are strongly visual learners, while others are more aural learners. Still, almost everyone falls somewhere in the middle. As such, it is important to first start out watching television with the captions set on, so you can read what you don’t understand when characters may be speaking too fast for you to keep up.

2. Watch shows that you enjoy

It has been proven time and again that you mostly retain information that you processed when you were having fun. As such, it is absolutely vital that you watch programming that you find enjoyable. Whether it's sports, news, cartoons, or music videos, find something that you would watch in your mother tongue, and enjoy yourself!

3. If you are just beginning, watch children's programming

Although watching something you enjoy is essential when trying to learn something new, it is also important that you start small so that you have the confidence of understanding almost everything that you watch. There's no point in watching news stations if you don't have the vocabulary to understand current events. If you have a small vocabulary, start with children's shows and work your way up to more complicated shows and movies.

4. Record programs and watch them several times until you understand everything

The value of watching television to improve your speaking and comprehension skills is already quite apparent. However, if you'd like to learn all the new vocabulary you picked up watching a specific show, it's best to record the show, and then watch it multiple times. Write down all the words you don't know, look them up, learn them, then watch the show again until you can see the whole thing without stopping.

Of course, many language learners on this blog and others suggest other forms of media to enrich your language skills, especially media that involves the Internet. At the same time, I strongly believe that there's nothing quite like watching some good old fashioned television.

This guest contribution was submitted by Lenore Holditch, who specializes in writing about top online colleges. Questions and comments can be sent to: holditch.lenore @
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