Learning and improving your English with video

Learning and improving with video

A great way to spend some of your free time is to relax and watch something in English. This could be internet videos, or film or TV. The Internet is a fantastic source of video in English. However, sometimes this can be problematic because there is so much to choose from. In this article we’re going to give you some tips on how to choose something to watch, and how to help your learning while you’re watching.

How can I choose what to watch?

We can’t give you a precise answer to this question, unfortunately. That said, we can give you some tips and points to consider.


If you’re intermediate level or lower, we recommend watching shorter videos. Around 15 minutes is perfect, or at most a 28-minute TV episode. This way, you should stay interested in the video, and you can absorb a good amount of language – but not too much.

Even for higher level learners, if your goal is to actively learn, remember that it’s difficult to absorb lots of new language in a short space of time. A film is a great way to relax, but if the language is difficult, you might lose interest after a long period of time.

If you decide to watch a longer video like a film, consider watching in two or three sessions over the course of an evening, for example. If you’re watching with someone else, a good idea is to summarise the previous episode or session before you continue (using English if possible!). That way, you can start the next session with the previous one fresh in your mind.

Summary: In general, it is easier to absorb language in shorter sessions. Take that into consideration.


You should definitely choose something that you think you’re going to be interested in. This is important for a couple of reasons: If you’re interested in what you’re watching, your attention will last longer. Also, if the topic is interesting to you, there is more chance you will want to use some of the language you learn in real life.

If possible, watch videos about topics you have some knowledge about. This way, there is a good chance you are already familiar with some of the language you see and hear, and you can concentrate on the parts that aren’t so familiar to you.

If you are looking for a film or TV series, remember to use IMDB to find out information about that film or series. If you think you can follow the plot, fantastic. If the plot seems complicated, this one might not be for you. You can also watch the trailer which might help you decide.

Where can I find things to watch?

As we mentioned in the introduction, there is so much video on the Internet that it can be difficult to choose a source. Here, we have made a list of some of our favourites. There are also some tips for each one.


*This is the only paid source in our list. Netflix is a great source of TV and film in English. To help your learning, read our article on the Language Learning with Netflix addon for Chrome.

BBC iPlayer/Channel 4

BBC iPlayer and Channel 4 are on-demand video services for UK television. You can find sitcoms, dramas, soap operas and all kinds of TV programmes that British people actually watch. The good news is that most of the content is subtitled (yay!) but you need to be (or appear to be 😉) in the UK to watch (boo!).

Ted Talks

Ted Talks is a brilliant service with interesting talks on all kinds of topics. There is definitely something for everyone. There are subtitles in multiple languages, and there is also the transcript of the video too! Find a talk that interests you and learn about that topic and improve your English at the same time.


YouTube can be great and also terrible at the same time. There are so many videos, it can be hard to know where to start. Don’t lose hope! When you find a channel or two that you like, you have a regular source of videos to watch. Our top tip: Search for a topic that interests you. Now use the advanced search to find videos that have captions available.

A few of our favourite YouTube channels (which have subtitles/captions) are:

Tom Scott (learning about language and ‘Things you might not have known’)

Mark Rober (learning with science and general fun from a former NASA engineer)

Smarter Everyday (learning through science and engineering)

Linus Tech Tips (technology and computing channel)

There are also many channels dedicated to helping you learn English, so find one you like and enjoy it regularly. We like Real English® and BBC Learning English.

Do you have any tips on how I can learn and gain confidence when I’m watching?

Of course we do.

Always have your notebook on hand to write down a few words and phrases that catch your attention. It’s a good idea to title the page in your notebook with whatever you’re watching so you have a point of reference on another occasion. You can make flashcards to test yourself on the new language if you wish.

Don’t write everything down! Pausing and unpausing will make you get bored more quickly. Remember, understanding the video and enjoying it is your first objective. Committing language to memory is secondary.

That said, remembering one or two phrases or five to ten words from each video you watch is a great objective. As well as writing down new language, you need to practise it. When you find a funny/memorable moment from your favourite character, practise repeating their words. Try to emulate their style and pronunciation as much as possible.

Now you have a few phrases in your notebook, choose one or two. Your goal now is to use them in your next class or your next chat with English speakers. That’s how you gain vocabulary and confidence!

What do you think? Is there anything else you do when you’re watching to learn? Do you have a favourite source of videos? Let us know in the comments below.


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