Is watching TV a good way to learn English?

At Ingla, we have a lot of experience guiding students to better English. We’re full of great advice about the best ways to learn English and the things every student should avoid. Today we’re going to look at the Pros and Cons, advantages and disadvantages, of learning English from television. We hope to finally answer the question: Is watching TV a good way to learn English?

Yes: Watching TV is a good way to learn English

Watching television (whether it’s on freeview or a streaming service like Netflix) gives many English-learners a good, realistic model of the English language. For many, TV is the only contact they have with English that isn’t in a book. Obviously, books are important. And some skills like learning grammar and vocabulary are things that you can’t get away from – they’re absolutely essential, and not always fun to learn. You just have to sit down and learn them. 

But with television, English learners also get to hear natural English the way it’s spoken right now in real life. This is great for listening skills (especially if used with subtitles); pronunciation, to hear what natural English sounds like; and colloquial English, to know what real people say in real-life situations.

No: Watching TV isn’t a good way to learn English

Despite what everyone says, watching TV as a way of learning English has some serious downsides. Yes, you’ll hear modern, colloquial English, but you’ll also hear a lot of incorrect English. Just because it’s coming from a native speaker, doesn’t mean that it’s a good example of the language. This is as true in English as it is in any other language. You’re better off turning off the TV and picking up a book, or joining a course. That’s where you’ll learn proper English. Nowadays, with everyone’s attention spans getting shorter, people are looking for a shortcut, but there is no shortcut to learn English. Hard work and study are the only way.

The Final Verdict

Let’s not be so quick to judgement. Like any other technique for learning a language, this one is imperfect. On the whole, though, we think there’s more benefit for students to watching TV and films in English than not. That’s why we run a regular film club and encourage our students to dive into English culture. It’s possible you’ll pick up some bad habits, but it won’t be worse than never hearing or using natural English. So take it from a teacher: pick up the remote control and turn on the TV. It’s good for you!

This is Ingla School of English‘s weekly blog, intended as reading practise for our students in Turnpike Lane, in London, and around the globe. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and take a look at the rest of our writing, much of which has activities for teachers to use in the classroom.