Using Netflix to Learn a Language: Study Languages with TV Language Resources

Learning a language can be challenging. It takes time and effort. And sometimes, you can’t help but wonder what you were thinking when you started. But what if language learning could be fun? What if you could watch your favorite tv series while you learn?

This is exactly what I’ve done with Netflix. I’ve found a way to use it to my advantage, and I want to share it with you.

Why Learn a Language with Netflix?

Today, Netflix is one of the most convenient ways to indulge in our latest tv obsessions. With over 125 million subscribers it is also one of the most popular ways to stream the latest and greatest.

Not only can you choose from a huge range of series, movies, and documentaries, but you can also watch whatever you want from wherever you want. Even offline.

With series from all over the world and movies in many different languages it is very easy to find something in the language you want and with subtitles in different languages.

It is also as easy to switch audio and subtitle languages as you’re watching. You have the freedom to try out any number of subtitle and audio combinations in real time.

We Use Netflix Either Way, So Why Not Use It Wisely?

On average, people spend one and a half hours a day watching something Netflix. So why not use that time wisely by learning a language while you do it? With Netflix, you have the ability to do it your way – with a series you’re already watching or by indulging in something new in its original language.

By watching a series from a country where the language you want to learn is spoken, you will not only learn the language but also get insight into the people who speak it and the culture tied to it.

Are you sold on the benefits?

Great. You may now find yourself wondering just how to use Netflix to learn a language. Listening is a very important part of that strategy.

You may know a ton of words in your language by sight, but if someone talks to you and you don’t understand him what good does that knowledge do you?

This is why Netflix is a great way to get exposure to the language and to boost your listening. Plus, you can use it to boost your vocabulary.

And the best part is, by watching tv series, that vocabulary includes useful words you might never learn in a book or app.

Who is Learning with Netflix for?

Netflix can be used at any stage in your learning. In the beginning, you can use it to start getting used to the way language sounds, its rhythm and how its really used by native speakers.

Over time, you’ll have the chance to improve your listening comprehension and really start to understand people when they speak. You will also get used to processing the language at a normal speed as spoken by native speakers.

As you progress, you can use Netflix to pick up new vocabulary. This is great not just because you’ll learn the everyday words you need, but also the colloquial way of speaking from native people. You will learn common expressions you might not otherwise get exposure to without visiting the country.

Once you can speak the language, watching tv series is a great way to keep up your exposure to the language.

The Netflix “School” of Language Learning

Let’s jump into how I have used Netflix to learn.

I started learning Portuguese and used Netflix a lot to help me. Now I am able to understand a lot, and because this method is so effective, I’ve also started to use it with Korean.

The first step is to find a series that you want to watch. I recommend finding a series that covers an area or genre you’re interested in. And it should originally be in the language you want to learn (not an overdub).

By doing this, you avoid poor translations and picking up any inaccuracies. It is also a great way to learn more about the language’s culture.

Because you are going to use it as a learning tool, you won’t want to watch a lot of episodes at once. No binge-watching here! You should also have pen and paper ready.

Using this method, you will watch short segments of the series. Usually in the range of 5 minutes. I recommend no longer than 10 minutes at a time, especially at the beginning.

Round One

Once you’ve selected the series you want to watch, it is time to start watching. The first time you tune in, you are going to watch the series in its original version (the language you want to learn) with subtitles also in the original language.

In Round One, the rules are simple. Just watch and do your best to understand what is happening through context. This round is so that you can start getting used to the sounds of the language.

As you improve in the language, you can do this first time without subtitles.

Round Two

Round Two is all about understanding what is being said in full. This means that this time around, you’ll change the subtitles into your native language.

This time you will understand everything, maybe not in the language that you want to learn, but you will know what the series is about and what is happening because you are reading it in your native language.

You might have understood some things the first time you watched it, or some you thought you did but were not sure. Now you will realize how much you actually understood the first time.

Round Three

In Round Three, you will watch it again in the language you want to learn with subtitles in the same language. This time have pen and paper ready. Plan to hit pause a few times as you’re watching.

When you begin this time, one of the first things you’ll notice is that you understand more than the first time you listened. Thanks to reading the second pass in your native language, you can now understand a few words.

On this third viewing, you are going to hit pause every time you have trouble understanding. Rewind and write down the phrase you had trouble with. Because you’re using the subtitles, you will have the subtitles to reference as you’re writing.

Even though it may feel as though you’re writing down a lot, take pride in the fact that you’re writing down far less than you would have if you had done this step in Round One.

Translating the Words

Now that you have written all the words down, it’s time to translate them. Look for the translation on the internet or on a dictionary (not by watching again with the subtitles in your native language).

This way the words will stick because you’re giving them a new context.

Do this for about 5 to 10 minutes. The shorter amount of time you do this, the more you can focus, and the easier this task will be.

As you understand more, you will need to write fewer words, so if you’re up for the challenge, you can always increase the time.

Once this step is done, you can watch the entire episode once more (without having to pause) so that you enjoy the entire storyline uninterrupted and with greater understanding.

At Which Stage Can I Start This Method?

When you start this method depends a bit on which language you are learning. The more similar it is to your native language (or a language you already know), the more manageable this method is.

If it is similar to a language you already know (and with the same writing system), you can start right away. That’s what I did with Portuguese. Since I knew Spanish, I was able to start using this method on Day 1.

If I were learning a more distant language like Polish, on the other hand, I would wait to start after I knew a few basic words or phrases. I would also likely start with a kids show or a “soft” comedy with more accessible vocabulary.

For languages with a different writing system, I’d do the following…

Learning Korean with the Netflix School of Language Learning

Up to this point, I’ve discussed this method generally. That way, you can apply it to any language. I focused only on using it with languages which are similar to those I already know, but now, I’m going to dive deep and share how I’m applying this same method with Korean.

Why is it different with Korean?

With Korean, the most notable difference is the new writing system. When learning a language with a different writing system, it means you have to deal with subtitles using that writing system. So you need to know how to read it.

Another thing that can make this very complicated, especially for people that have never had contact with a language this distant from their own, is that it will sound very different. There are fewer cognates and loanwords, so they’ll be less vocabulary you’ll recognize by association. Very often, it will sound more like random sounds than words. It’s difficult to figure out when a word starts or finishes.

At least at the beginning…

How to Apply Learning With Netflix to Korean

You might be wondering whether or not it’s possible to use this method with Korean. My answer? A resounding yes!

My only tip is to wait just a little bit longer along your language learning journey to apply it.

Since the writing system is different, I first recommend taking some time getting acquainted with it. Before beginning, I recommend being comfortable the letters or characters (even if you don’t understand what you’re reading). If not, there is no way that you will be able to follow along with the subtitles.

The Korean alphabet is pretty easy to learn. And bonus – while getting familiar with the alphabet, you’ll pick up a lot of words and phrases.

When you start to apply the Netflix method, this is great because you’ll already understand some Korean.

Once you’ve become comfortable reading you can start applying the method, in the same way, I explained before.

Why Learning a Language with Netflix Works

Listening is a very important part of the language learning process. You need to be able to understand what other people say to you in order to be able to converse and use your language.

It can often be difficult to get exposure to language so that you’re ready to use it when the occasion arises.

That’s why watching a series or films is so effective. It’s something that you can do easily from the comfort of your couch.

You also get to hear how people speak, the expressions they use and the more colloquial way of speaking.

When I was learning English, I watched every movie and every tv series I could in the original version. In result, my listening comprehension skills allowed me to understand everything I heard when people talked to me.

Of course, to really converse, you’ll also need to practice speaking. But using this method to boost your listening skills is a great way to get started along the right path.

Final Thoughts

Learning with Netflix works. And it’s a fun way to learn — better than the usual listening material aimed at learners.

You can choose what you want to watch. And by choosing something that interests you, you’re more motivated to learn.

If you find movies and a series that you really like, you’ll be eager to understand without subtitles. You can more fully immerse yourself in the story that way. That’s certainly the case for me with Korean.

If you’re already watching stuff on Netflix, it’s simple to start using that time wisely. What better way to learn a new language than by enjoying your favorite tv series?

If you try it out let me know what you think. I’d love to hear if it helps you and if you have any suggestions for improving this method. Let me know what language you are learning in the comments below.

About the Author: I am Carla and speak 4 languages, and I am on the journey to learning my 5th. Together with Oliver, I run Exciting Adventure where we share our journey on becoming digital nomads, as well as travel and language learning tips. I believe that everybody should do what they love and that is why I started the blog.



I'm a language lover, traveler and musician sharing my adventures and language learning tips over at Eurolinguiste. Join me on Facebook for daily language learning and travel tips!