Is It Possible To Improve Your Spoken English By Watching TV?

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Today’s topic – is it possible to improve your spoken English by watching TV. If I had to give you a simple answer, it would be yes and no. Confused? Well, let’s delve into this matter and have a look at different aspects of how watching TV might help you with your spoken English!

So first of all, for any English improving effort to have a significant impact on your spoken English you need to speak, full stop. You can’t just sit back and turn the box on, listen to English used in the film or a TV show and then expect that language to be automatically added to your active vocabulary. Sorry guys, but it just doesn’t happen that way! 🙁

I can already hear someone say – shut up Robby, that’s not right, I can definitely remember myself hearing a phrase on the TV and I instantly memorized it. I’ve also used it many times in actual English conversations so there you go – you can actually watch TV and add on more phrases and new words to your vocabulary!

All right, let me ask you something then. How many phrases you can think of that you’ve picked up from watching telly during the last, say, couple of months? Five? Ten? Fifteen? Fair enough, but then you definitely have to agree that it’s nowhere near to be called an efficient way of improving your spoken English!

Remember what I said at the beginning of this episode – for any English improving effort to have a significant impact on your spoken English you need to speak. Please note the emphasis on the word significant!

Yes, by simply watching TV you will pick up an odd phrase here and there, but you’re not going to feel real improvement to your ability of communicating with real people simply because you will working on your passive vocabulary rather than on the active one!

You see – passive vocabulary is that part of English language that you can recognize but you can’t really use it when speaking because you haven’t been actively practising those words and phrases! So when you watch a TV program you definitely increase your ability to understand English and make no mistake – it’s no mean feat! But today’s topic was – is it possible to improve your spoken English merely by watching TV?

Improving your spoken English means adding more words and phrases to your active English vocabulary, and it therefore means speaking them many times over till you’re comfortable enough using them when actually speaking to people!

Here’s what you have to do if you really want to step up your ability to speak English by watching TV!

First of all, have a notepad and a pen at hand, you’ll need to write down the phrases and expressions! You wont’ do the job without some elbow grease!

Secondly, depending on your level of English understanding you’ll have to consider turning the subtitles on. Yes, yes, I know they say to prevent you from just reading and encourage to listen to what’s spoken you’d better have the subtitles off. But here’s the catch – especially in the Hollywood movies they have so much action gong on that you may find it difficult to follow what’s being said. Also, the numerous slang words and expressions will sometimes make it quite hard to understand the language used.

So use your judgment and see if you can do without the subtitles for a particular TV program or film, and if you can – definitely go for it! But if you can’t clearly understand the language used and many words are spoken very quickly – you’d better have the subtitles on.

OK, one way or another, you’ll be watching the telly and spotting phrases and words that you’re not really familiar with or you just haven’t heard them used in that particular way.

What you need to do is – write them down in your notepad. And mind – don’t translate them into your native language ❗  It’s going to have a detrimental effect on your fluency so use other, simpler English words to describe the phrases. Also make sure you don’t write just a single word in your dictionary – always try to use it in the context it was used when you heard it.

Let’s say, you hear a word stash which means something that is hidden away by someone, something valuable. Don’t just write down the separate word – stash. Write the whole phrase in your dictionary – let’s take the stash – and explain it by writing – let’s take what they’ve hidden.

So after watching a TV program or a film you’ll have some five to ten new phrases in your dictionary. Now you have to repeat them and memorize them so that you can use them as part of your active vocabulary. Go through the new phrases a couple times daily for a few days by repeating them loud, and you’ll make a real impact on your spoken English that way.

You’ll be able to use new phrases and expressions in your conversations and that’s why it’s important to write down the full sentence as opposed to just a single word. Having the phrase imprinted in your mind is beneficial mainly because of two reasons.

First, you’ll automatically associate the phrase with the moment from the TV show or a movie and you’ll be able to use it in a similar moment in real life. Well, not that you have to become a hitman to use phraseology that you hear spoken by an assassin in a movie! 😀 But you’ll definitely have situations where that particular phrase is fitting, and of course, you can use the separate word from that phrase as well!

The second reason is that spoken English consists of word chunks, phrases and collocations instead of separate words. So when you memorize a whole phrase, you do yourself a big favour because you’re imprinting a natural speech pattern into your mind instead of just memorizing a single word.

So this is how you can transform simple TV watching into an effective spoken English improving tool. Not only you’ll constantly train your listening and build up your passive vocabulary, you’ll also be able to use those new words and phrases in your English conversations!


P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

  • No problem, you’re welcome! 😉

  • Anna

    Thank you, Robbie, for your kind words.

  • Thanks Anna, this is one of those rare websites that actually works! There’s plenty of movies on it, and I just actually started watching one of them – I’ll have to resume it later on because I’ve got plenty more stuff to do now on the blog…

  • Anna

    English movies with english subtitles:

  • tianchi

    Hi I found you really get a point about this TV watching thing. It’s not just a choice of program, it really decide whether or not you want to integrate into local life.
    But I have a question: is it strongly not recommended to watch TV series with my native language subtitle? But those are the only with easy access for me, since I don’t have a television actually.