My students here in China often ask what they can do to improve their oral English. Memorizing a dictionary is all well and good for passing their college-entrance exams, but actually having a conversation is a very different sort of test. These students are looking for immersion learning of exactly the sort provided by Rosetta Stone, but unfortunately their $900-per-year teachers college doesn’t offer it. So I offer them a number of suggestions, from listening to English news and music to talking with foreigners on the bus to watching movies in English.
Since finishing Rosetta Stone Chinese Level 3*, I’ve started looking more closely at these suggestions because I, too, am looking for immersion study experiences. Watching movies, in particular, is a popular idea, since it allows you to learn while relaxing. The only problem is that most of my students’ English, like my Mandarin, isn’t quite up to the demands of full-speed dialogue. However, there are a couple of things you can do to make movies in a foreign language more approachable.
1. You probably won’t want to give up watching films in your new language; after all, such films are great sources of interesting cultural material. But, for an interesting twist, I suggest spending time watching movies from your own culture dubbed into the language you’re studying. Seeing films about familiar situations, places, and experiences—with dialogue in your new language—makes your new language much easier to follow as the storyline progresses. You don’t have to worry about idioms (a huge hurdle in learning Mandarin), and translated phrases are usually much more direct and use simpler vocabulary.
2. Watch every movie twice. The first time you watch a foreign film in the language you’re learning, allow yourself subtitles in your native language. Once you know what’s going on, watch the film the second time with subtitles in the language you’re studying. If you’re feeling especially bold (or the movie is especially predictable), you can switch the subtitles halfway through the movie.
Of course, watching movies at all takes a certain level of proficiency with the language, but I’ve found that my studies with Rosetta Stone left me capable of picking out enough words and phrases to generally keep up. I’ve been carefully taught. Now it’s time to step out into the wide world of foreign media. So far, I’ve especially enjoyed Star Wars, Casablanca, and James Bond movies—all dubbed in Mandarin!
*Rosetta Stone Chinese is now available in Levels 1-5.