BITS and Pieces

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The role of films in language learning

Most of us happen to know a large number of Spanish, French, Japanese or Italian words without ever having learnt the language. Do you remember how we picked them up? For the majority of the Indian population, it must have been the film DDLJ that taught us that Senorita was the Spanish word for a Lady. How about the song Sayonara from the 1966 film Love in Tokyo? It was not hard to understand then, that Sayonara meant Goodbye in Japanese.

Be it small words like ‘Si’, ‘Oui’, ‘Belle’ or greetings like ‘Bonjour’,’ Hola’ or ‘Gracias’, we internalise a large amount of foreign language vocabulary without ever formally learning the language or even realising it.

Notice a common medium that taught us all these words and phrases? That’s right. Cinema, of course! Movies can bring about a revolution in language learning. They seem to be an easy, quick and a very popular way of acquiring different tongues.


Cinema is a widespread form of entertainment and exists in every country, and undeniably in every society. It is a blend of language and images that viewers can easily associate with. A lot of gestures and sentiments like love, hate, betrayal and fear are common across the world, and when audiences see something they relate to, it does not take much time to understand the words being used, although in another language. And this happens even without subtitles. How many times have we sung lyrics of foot-tapping Bollywood songs in Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi or Bengali ourselves? When our hero is from Punjab and the heroine is from Kashmir, not picking up a word or two from both these regional languages is almost impossible.


Learning an unknown language through the medium of films is a very natural yet effective method. We see and hear at the same time, and our mind associates and processes all the data that goes in. It is just like kids learning their mother tongue – they hear, associate it with images or actions and repeat.

Pros, pros and pros!

Movies are a window to the culture that a language represents. Cinema introduces you to a world that you may have only heard about or possibly never ever known before. This is an integral part of learning any language, especially for students and professionals in the language and cinema industry. When we watch a particular film, we get a chance to observe how people in a certain country dress, eat, work or relax. We probably get an idea of current affairs or political situations, the history of a country, the traditions or even how people name their pets.


Teachers and students are of the opinion that showing and watching movies in class enhances the interest as well as the performance of students. A lot of language acquisition happens unknowingly and also stays in the mind. What students see, hear, associate with and understand is less likely to be forgotten. Hence, rote learning is not necessary and makes everybody’s job simpler. Bonus – Students will probably not want to miss class either.


With the omnipresent Internet today, foreign films are easily accessible to almost everybody. We can watch movies online or download them. DVDs can be bought at book stores. Language institutes also have libraries that are stocked up with films. All you need to do is get yourself a membership. Film Festivals are another highly popular medium of connecting one part of world to cinema from across the globe. Certain cities are very active on the cultural circuit and often have International Film Festivals that screen a variety of movies from Iran, France, Turkey, Africa, Korea, Sweden, Russia, Japan, Canada, Germany or even Indian films in various regional languages like Assamese, Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi or Malayalam….the list is endless.

What else?

Post screening discussions at film festivals, language classes, film clubs or even in friend circles enhance keen observation and participation from everybody involved. Watching movies becomes an ice breaker for conversations and presentations. Film studies is a growing field as well, that attracts a lot of youth these days.

Moral of the Story

Be it comedy, romance, action or horror, world cinema has something for every hungry soul in every language possible. So go watch a film in an unknown language. Who knows what all you may learn. You might be able to show off the next time you visit an Italian or Chinese restaurant, or go shopping in a French boutique!

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Sailee Brahme An avid reader, recreational dancer as well as a French teacher, Sailee is a creative person with a flair for languages and poetry. She is a crazy dog lover, enjoys music and cannot resist desserts. She loves to write and constantly seeks new inspiration and new domains to be studied.