Why Media Helps with Language Learning

- The Media’s Role in Language Learning -

I’m a strong advocate for using the media for language learningBooks help with language learning and there is a simple reason for this: We are storytelling creatures, and stories promote language acquisition.

George Gerbner wrote about storytelling a lot during his academic career. As a media research scientist, Gerbner focused on storytelling because the television has a very serious influence on consumers. To summarize his research, the television is telling a story and we are listening. This concept is so powerful it led Dr. Gerbner to develop one of the most influential theories of mass media research, the theory of Cultivation Analysis, which says that “heavy” media consumers (those who watch more than four hours of television per day) tend to believe the messages on television even more than the reality surrounding them. Stories can be powerful!

- Leveraging the Media for Language Acquisition -

The good news is that you can use this knowledge to your advantage for language learning. Because people are storytellers, we are also good at listening to and remembering these stories. So here’s the trick: If you can pick a story you’re familiar with and switch the language, it will be much, much easier to learn the language components present in that story.

HorseHere’s an example – a story, if you will. My seven-year-old daughter loves the movie Secretariat. If you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s a great family film. My daughter knows the movie very well – in other words, she is quite familiar with the story told in the movie. One day I came into her room to find her watching Secretariat as I had on other occasions. This time, however, I was surprised to find my daughter watching the movie with Spanish audio and subtitles! I sat down with her for a few minutes and she began, with great excitement, to tell me the Spanish words she had learned. And the best part is she was absolutely loving it. Language learning wasn’t a chore and it wasn’t frustrating. For my daughter, learning another language became fun and enjoyable. This is a very important principle for keeping and maintaining motivation during second language acquisition.

 – Natural Language Learning -

This story also brings up another important aspect of second language acquisition that I refer to as Natural Language Learning. Think for a moment about how children learn to speak. They don’t have to memorize or study anything. It just comes naturally. I believe a big part of this is due to the fact that they want to communicate. They want to understand. They are, simply put, interested in the content of your conversation (even if they don’t understand it all).

Older children and adults can use this same principle for language learning by using the media to learn languages naturally. Much like my daughter used a movie to learn pieces of MediaSpanish, you can use the media to learn vocabulary, verb conjugations, sentence structure, etc. And it’s not just movies – you can use books, magazines, websites, music, and other forms of media very effectively. And the process is incredibly simple. All you need to do is pick a movie (or book, magazine, etc.) you’re already familiar with from your first language, then watch it with the audio or subtitles enabled for your second language. It’s surprising how much you’ll actually be able to pick up.

The most important aspect of natural language learning is that it takes away the formal feeling of “studying” a language. Not very many people actually like to study. But most of us enjoy watching a movie or reading a book. It’s good to change things up by using the media you enjoy in your new language. It’s sort of like “enterstudyment” – a bit of study in the middle of entertainment.

Thumbs upNow you see why I’m such a big advocate of language acquisition through media. When you couple the storytelling principles with the fact that audio and audiovisual media often include native speakers, there is a real added benefit to developing correct pronunciation that is much more difficult to get through normal study.

How have you used the media for language learning? Let me know in the comments.

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