Parlez-vous Netflix?

I’ve found the landscape for language-learning to be pretty bleak beyond intermediate levels– even dynamic apps like Duolingo seem to exist in a pedagogical vacuum, lacking personality, real-world application, and the joy of discovery that comes with more organic exploration of a language. Considering the fuzzy, fluctuating borders of a language, it’s easy to see how content gets stripped of joy, losing entertainment value through an effort to standardize. Creating materials for second language acquisition is a nebulous task, ironically, because of its variation in specific application. Every language grows and changes, and its usage varies by situation, geography, and population.

If you’ve already got a firm grasp on a second language, I have an enrichment activity for you. Get your hands on a DVD produced for speakers of your target language (or access that language’s version of Netflix). In the language options menu, select audio AND closed captioning in your target language. Beginners might do better to watch a film in their native language with foreign subtitles, or vice versa, but the second-language audio/captions combination is key if you’re more advanced. This is because the captions and the dubbing often diverge, presenting you with two different translations at once. Take this example from HBO’s Veep. The on-screen caption reads: IMG_4717

The dubbed line goes: “Elle est ravie, elle aussi.” Watching the English version later, you hear “We’re delighted too.” The translators probably made different creative decisions in this case because they had different constraints: the dubber had to match mouths and the caption writer had to fit the text to screen space and reading speed. Meanwhile, you benefit from absorbing a living, breathing thesaurus.

This kind of watching has helped me broaden my understanding of French. It’s especially useful for idiom, because figurative speech is an area of language that is especially changeable and situation-specific. In the example above, I learned in one jam-packed line that “être aux anges” is a somewhat bombastic way of saying you’re delighted, for which the less dressy expression is “être ravie,” something I already recognized.

You can study vocabulary and grammar texts all you want, but even the best ones are rigid and remote. Real-life usage is fluid, and I haven’t yet found even an app or other dynamic resource for advanced learners that approximates the way language is encountered in life. This method does, and although it isn’t necessarily interactive, it’s a low-pressure way to take language to the next level and prepare yourself for your next conversation with a native speaker.

Plus, everybody loves an excuse to watch more Netflix, right?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. It’s so interesting that the dubbing and subtitles can come out differently! I used to watch Friends with French subtitles and write down all the words I didn’t know. And after I moved here, I would watch trash TV and call it “studying French.” But hey, I’m pretty sure I learned something!


    1. Jill says:

      Haha yes I love “studying French!”


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