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Immersion through movies?

Hi everyone

While i think Duolingo is an excellent site I realize (reassured by others' opinions also) that it's insufficient to use it as the only learning source.

I would like to know what do you think about watching movies in the language you learn to increase language immersion? What level of foreign language is actually required to start? Would it be useful to watch a movie while having poor language level, and do a precise translation of each scene and phrase?

My idea (I've already started) is to take a favourite movie and watch it along learning. I'm learning Dutch. I've decided to go with my absolutely favourite cartoon: Zootopia (aka Zootropolis in many languages, including Dutch). My choice was based on few things:

  1. Most cartoons (including this one) are dubbed.
  2. I really love the movie so I'll not be demotivated while watching the same scene few dozens of times (yes, that is VERY important if not critical).
  3. I know the movie to the level of being able to cite something around 80% of text in English.

Reasons to even consider the idea itself were as follows:

  1. Duolingo will provide me basic vocabulary only. With movies I'll have to face much more vocabulary.
  2. Movies use a real, living version of a language.
  3. There are different accents, ways of speaking etc. even in a single movie. Each character is different. So you build pattern recognition rather than actual pronunciation recognition.
  4. Active seeking for the translation lets you learn in a different way than when you're being offered with the translation.

Now what I can say is that I encountered some totally unexpected problems, so if, after reading this, you consider it a good idea you might learn from my experience and find out a bit what are the potential problems.

  1. While finding a movie in English with English subtitles is trivial, finding something in other languages might be more challenging. Of course you can decide to go on with the movie produced in a specific country (that'll probably be a good idea, but... see below, point 3). The trick is that the dubbing is actually a localized version of a movie, so it does not represent exact translation. It's the contrary with the subtitles which are expected to be seen along with English (original) audio rather than that in the same language. As a result there are huge differences between the two.
  2. Unless you're lucky and find the exactly matching subtitles (points below assume you didn't; I didn't ;-) ), download all versions you might find. It'll help you with the vocabulary and will make it easier to build a translation.
  3. Due to the point 1 you need to listen to a particular piece numerous times to actually guess what was said in the piece. One line of text can take days. If you don't take a movie you really want to watch, you'll be fed up with that after 5 minutes of the movie (1-2 weeks of working on a movie). That's why picking a random movie, even if it was originally in the language you need won't be a good idea in most cases.
  4. Again due to the point 1 you need to get a grasp of pronunciation before you can even start with this approach. You'll have to make guesses on how something that was said in the movie could be written and then check if it makes any sense.
  5. Get a good dictionary (might be online). Familiarize with the Google Translate but don't rely solely on that, check the translations it provides. Be prepared to do multiple translations in both ways until you have something that sounds like what you hear and gives a reasonable translation that suits the on-screen situation. And then challenge it. Do that until you're sure that you've got the right text. Try looking for the phrase you came up with in the Google (not Google Translate). If it comes up on original pages, you'd probably got it right.
  6. Build your own subtitles file and use it along the movie. Pick one of the subtitle files you've found that match the timing (or modify the timing to match your copy of the movie) so that you don't have to bother about that when building your own version and keep replacing the text in this file with what you've managed to discover. Update it and review it all the time. If you prefer you can also take English or your local subtitles for this purpose.
  7. Keep a list of vocabulary required in the movie. At least part of it repeats in a single movie so you'll not have to look for it again.
  8. Beware of word-building and purposed incorrect ways of speaking (English example from Zootopia trailer: "So know you know. Zootopia. Like nothing you've seen be-furrr"). Foreign accents are a challenge (usually use strange words that even if correct wouldn't be used by a native as well as not necessarily grammatically correct phrase).
  9. I've decided to focus first on getting all the text into writing (and I'm faaar from that). I'll try learning all the meaning once I've got that.

As for my story: I've started after spending about 35 days here on Duolingo learning Dutch. As I already wrote I'm taking Zootopia as my first movie. At this moment I have as much as... 1 minute precisely translates (after some 6-7 hours of actual work). Yet I can already see there are some words that sunk in. It's way to early so that I could tell if it works for me or not. What surprises me is that I can understand some of the spoken text (more than I've expected). Yet getting the exact version as it was said is still a time consuming thing. But I have a lot of fun with it. And I believe it will work for me, even though it's probably not the most efficient way of learning.

I want to know what do you think about that? Did anyone else take such approach? Or maybe someone will, encouraged by this post? Share your experience and your own tips if you have any :-)

October 1, 2017



You need to know at least 3000 words in order to watch movies and understand most of it. Surely, you can watch earlier than that. It's just about how much tolerance you have for gibberish. If it works for you, just go for it.


If you use films: firstly, make sure you understand it well enough. If it's all gibberish, I highly doubt you will learn anything. If you understand at least 75%, the 25% can often be filled in. It's also important that you watch films that interest you, and not just in the target language. I'm also never able to stay interested in anything long enough if I cannot follow it.


So I feel that Duolingo left me very prepared to read and write in Spanish, but not listen. I was thinking about doing something similar, but watch Spanish language programs with Spanish subtitles on, so I can read along as I listen.

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