One of the most common pieces of advice a teacher will give to a student wanting to improve their listening (and quite possibly their vocabulary) is to “watch films in English.” It seems like a sensible enough suggestion on the surface. After all, it couldn’t do any harm could it? But perhaps the question is: Does simply watching films in English translate into any real improvement in listening and vocabulary, or does it perhaps require a bit more effort than that?
My own experience of learning Spanish tells me that watching films or television is indeed extremely helpful, but I also remember that most of the time I spent in front of the TV in my first months in Spain was spent in the company of the family I lived with. I could easily ask them questions to check the meaning of words or concepts and instantly check their reactions to what was happening on the screen to see if I was following the thread. In short, I had something very similar to teachers on hand.
So, what tips can we give our students to get the most out of their viewing? How can they make time often spent alone in front of the TV less passive, and actively take control of their learning on their own? Here are a few tips: