Learning Language from Watching TV

When I lived in Romania, I was sent to teach students studying Mountain Agriculture to speak English at the university.  It was a kind of Science major, and people who do Science and Math are not the kind who usually study language.  However, to my surprise, when I arrived in their department, one of the students was speaking English.  He was the only one, and I asked him where he learned to speak English.  He said he had been watching English shows on TV and watching the subtitles in Romanian.  He had learned to speak English from watching TV. I understood because one of the ways I learned to speak Romanian was by watching the shows they got in English and watching the Romanian subtitles.  However, I have tried that here in Korea, and it is not as easy in Korea to learn language from watching the Korean subtitles on an English show.

When I first came here, I tried because it had worked so well in Romania. I had learned to read the hangul, the Korean letters, but they just put the subtitles there too fast, and I wasn’t accustomed enough to the hangul  initially to catch what was written down below.  It just seemed fruitless.  In Romania. the letters were like English letters, and it made it easier to read them fast enough as they came up.

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I worked at learning to read hangul faster. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

After I learned to read the hangul better, I tried again.  I could read the words on the bottom, but the word order is so different between Korean and English that it still wasn’t like trying to learn to read Romanian.  In English sentences, we begin with a subject and a verb, and then we go on to an indirect object, a direct object, and a prepositional phrase.  However, Korean sentences are ordered different from English sentences, and often, they leave parts of speech out for you just to guess at them.  In Romanian, it was possible to almost compare word for word like you do with Spanish and English. The word order between English and Spanish and Romanian is not exactly the same, but must more alike than between English and Korean.

Some of the words are almost the same between English and Romanian or English and Spanish. They are just pronounced differently.  However, the words between English and Korean are completely different.  It makes it hard to figure out where they are in a sentence if you are having to look quickly at the Korean while listening to it in English.

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The subtitles came so quickly and left so quickly it was like they vanished!  Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com


Besides the word order and the words being so different throwing me off at trying to learn from watching subtitles, the verb conjugations didn’t match either.  You see, they have verb conjugations in Korean that don’t exist in English.  It really confused things.  They also conjugate adjectives, and that confused things because we don’t conjugate adjectives in English either.  Even if I could read fast enough to read what was at the bottom, still trying to compare it to English just didn’t work.

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If I want to watch a Korean drama, I can do it now, but watching subtitles didn’t help at all. Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

Now that I actually speak Korean, I can improve my Korean by watching Korean TV. If I watch in English with Korean subtitles, I can catch vocabulary words.  If I watch in Korean, I can improve my listening skills.  Now, I can finally watch a Korean show and not need English to understand and enjoy it.  My Korean isn’t perfect, but I have had to get to a higher level than beginner for it to help me to watch TV in Korean.  Watching TV to help you learn a language works much better if you are watching two European languages. Korean and English are just too different to learn from watching the subtitles.

2 thoughts on “Learning Language from Watching TV”

  1. DO YOU use anki? also i’m currently employing a similar strategy for French! as you said it’s really effective since it’s similar to english and written in the latin alphabet

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