[Last updated: March 16, 2022]
Growing up, I was always told that spending my weekends watching TV was bad for me.
“What a waste of a weekend!”
”You’ll get square eyes” was a particular favourite of my nan’s.
But is TV really that bad?
As it turns out, if you’re trying to learn a language on Duolingo, it’s actually one of the BEST things you can do.
No, I’m not kidding. I’ve got all the research to support it. It’s legit.
In this article, I’ll take you through it, unpacking what it really takes to learn a language, why TV shows are so effective alongside Duolingo, and how you can start watching awesome content in your target language RIGHT NOW.
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Duolingo and TV shows – a match made in heaven
Like peanut butter and jelly
So then — what does it take to learn a language?
Time? Effort? Money? Tuition? Superpowers?
For our purposes we can boil this down to two forms of learning: Active and Passive.
Active learning is what we’re all used to on Duolingo. It’s sort of like a classroom in your pocket.
Duolingo is where we learn the fundamentals of a language. The vocabulary, the grammar, the pronunciation etc. We form basic (and often crazy) sentences and learn how the language functions in an inauthentic, constructed learning environment.
This is essential. We need these building blocks. Active learning is non-negotiable.
The same is true of passive learning — yet this often gets overlooked in a world of free language learning apps that, by themselves, can do so much.
Passive learning is the unconscious, immersive way of learning a language. It’s when you place yourself in an authentic environment and let the language wash over you.
Think of any basic everyday thing:
Having a conversation in a crowded bar.
Bopping along to a catchy tune.
Creasing at the latest memes in the group chat.
These are all examples of passive learning — whether in a foreign tongue or our own. We acquire new language and an understanding of how it’s used in every little thing we do.
The same goes for watching (or binging) TV shows. Yet we don’t see this as learning. At best we see it as relaxing. At worst — wasted time.
But what about binging a TV show in a foreign language?
Well, then it’s a different story entirely…
What the research says
TV for the win
This isn’t anecdotal. Research shows that watching TV shows has a positive effect on nearly all areas of language acquisition.
Somehow, TV shows have a remarkable effect on improving our speaking, listening, and even reading comprehension.
Even if you don’t understand what you’re watching — even if you have to watch with your native subtitles — TV shows have been proven to accelerate the acquisition process, and cement what we learn in the active phase of learning.
Take this 2019 study for instance, which looks at 44 Kosovans attempting to learn Turkish.
For a period of 1-2 years, the participants watched Turkish TV shows with subtitles in their native languages (Albanian and Bosnian).
By the end of this period, they achieved B1 proficiency in speaking, listening and reading, and even reached A2 level in writing.
Significantly, the participants watched the TV shows for entertainment purposes — not for learning. Over time, they were even able to dispense with the subtitles altogether and enjoy the TV shows completely in Turkish!
Researchers arrived at similar conclusions in this 2020 study, which explored the role of TV shows and sitcoms for learning English.
Those who watched TV shows in English displayed a steady learning curve and performed better than those who didn’t. Of note, 63% of the participants preferred to watch TV shows than random YouTube videos and would spend roughly 2 hours a day doing so.
Again, the participants watched TV shows for entertainment purposes. As such, this had the unconscious (passive) effect of building their vocabularies and better rooting them in the language.
This is an exciting realisation. Something we do for fun also happens to be one of the most effective ways to learn a language.
Better still: the more enjoyable it is, the better our results.
No more guilt. Watching TV isn’t a waste of time. It’s self-improvement!
Where to find TV shows in your target language
Hint: they’re everywhere
The good news keeps coming.
Not only is the internet overflowing with quality foreign-language TV shows, but, if you know where to look, they’re also free!
Many European countries have national streaming services. You’ve probably heard of iPlayer — it’s a major streaming platform in the UK and is completely free for UK residents. It’s stacked with quality authentic English content and is regularly updated.
There are plenty of other services like this across Europe as well. Take a look!
|Language||Free Streaming Sites|
|English||iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4|
What you’ll need in order to watch them
One simple little tool
There’s just one little hurdle to overcome.
Although the bulk of the content we’re looking for is free, it’s also geo-restricted.
What does this mean, you ask?
It means it’s restricted to those within a certain country.
RaiPlay, for instance, is freely available if you live in Italy. But if you’re trying to access it from anywhere else, you’ll get the following message:
Luckily, there’s a super simple way around this.
Ever heard of a VPN?
It’s this neat little tool that enables you to trick streaming websites into thinking you’re visiting from another country.
With a mere tap I can set my VPN to Italy and, in a matter of seconds, be streaming thousands of cool Italian TV shows.
Look what happens now when I try to watch a TV show on RaiPlay:
Ta-dah! Pretty cool, huh?
There are loads of VPNs available nowadays, but this one from NordVPN is probably the best for language learners.
It’s one of the easiest to setup, has the best speeds for streaming and a huge selection of countries to choose from, so you’ll almost always be able to find stuff in your target language.
Another big reason I recommend NordVPN is all their plans come with a 30-day money back guarantee. So you can enjoy a whole month of TV shows for absolutely nada!
Shall we see how it works in 4 simple steps?
How it works
TV shows in seconds
To illustrate just how quick and easy it is to start watching your next favourite TV shows, let’s take a look at a step-by-step tutorial of how I use my VPN to watch Italian TV shows on RaiPlay.
1. Open your desired streaming service
The first thing you’ll want to do is find a streaming service in your target language.
In my case, I want to watch Italian TV shows, so I’ll head over to RaiPlay.
Most streaming services will also have apps so it’s worth checking your app store if you’re using a mobile or tablet device!
2. Grab yourself a VPN
Next, you’ll want to get yourself a nice shiny VPN.
The signup and installation process is really easy with NordVPN. From signup to installation you should be able to start streaming within the next 10 minutes!
Simply hit ‘Get VPN for Streaming’ and follow the on-screen instructions to download and install your VPN.
NordVPN also have a really handy app you can download if you’re using a mobile or tablet device!
3. Unleash your VPN
Once you’ve installed your VPN, the final step is to turn it on!
This bit’s really easy with NordVPN, as they have a neat little map for you to pick your server from. Simply pick the country where your streaming service is based and hit ‘QUICK CONNECT’.
So in order to access RaiPlay, I’ll need to select Italy, then tap QUICK CONNECT.
Once you’re all hooked up, your connection will go green and you’ll be ready to start streaming!
4. Start streaming!
Now that your VPN is hooked up and firing, all that’s left to do is to find something to watch!
Most streaming platforms will have stacks of TV series for you to binge on. Many will even have subtitles to make it even easier for you to follow along.
Sit back, enjoy, and watch your proficiency go from strength to strength!
TV is better for you than fresh air
Look, I don’t make the rules. TV is just really, really good for you.
Well, it’s really, really good for your language learning. And it’s fun! So why wouldn’t you add a big dollop of TV goodness to your language learning diet?
Thanks to the internet and the quality of today’s VPNs, it’s now easier than ever to do so. Immersion is just a few simple clicks away.
So feel free to spend your weekends binging out on the latest Italian box sets. It’s not so bad for you after all!