It would be ideal. Put your feet up, a glass of wine next to you and put on a classic French movie. You don’t understand French but 90 minutes later, you’ll be able to converse with the locals in their native tongue. Except, that’s not the outcome. The more likely outcome is you’ll be glued to the subtitles for the next hour and a half or without them, you’ll fall asleep after five minutes as you’ll have no idea what’s going on.
However, is there actually any truth in being able to learn French simply by watching movies? Well, the honest answer is yes and no.
Although watching movies and TV in French will definitely help your comprehension of some spoken French, you can’t solely rely on the process teaching you the language.
However, there are many other reasons to do this that can (and will) certainly accelerate your learning.
What’s the point of watching movies in French?
There are indeed many people who firmly believe that sitting in front of your television for hours on end, consuming as much French TV as possible, will somehow cause their brain to make connections which will magically make them start to understand what’s being said.
For someone who’s at the beginning stages of learning French, there’s really better things you can be doing at this time than watching French movies. You will understand very little and if anything, it’ll make you frustrated and may even be enough to put you off learning altogether!
However, where watching French films can be of benefit is if you’re more of an intermediate learner. It’s at this point where the benefits actually outway the negatives.
What can I learn from watching movies in French?
Assuming you’re not a total novice, there are a few things you’ll be able to get out of watching films and movies in French.
Firstly, it may help your comprehension of spoken French. The reason I say, ‘may’, is because some French in films and TV is spoken so fast it becomes very difficult to understand, even for an intermediate learner!
However, assuming the spoken French isn’t too fast, then it can not only help your comprehension but also your accent.
Will watching movies in French help me understand the language?
Yes, watching movies and TV in French can definitely help you understand the language, but only if you combine the technique with other learning methods. Don’t allocate all your learning time to watching films, it’s just not the best way to learn.
If you’re lucky and have a few hours each day to be able to progress your French learning, then it’s a great idea. Take a look at my study planner to see whether you have enough time to do this!
As I alluded to above though, comprehension of French isn’t the only thing you’re going to get out of this. Everyone who speaks French wants to sounds as close as possible to native French-speaking people. So, listening to how the French actors speak and trying to replicate this, is a great way to perfect your accent.
This isn’t an easy (or quick) thing to do and don’t expect it to work overnight. A great thing to do is to go onto YouTube and search for ‘Famous French Actors’, then find (obviously either a mail or female) actor/actress – and watch as many of their films and interviews as you can. It’s surprisingly good fun.
What are the best movies to watch in French?
Fortunately, with Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and many other platforms, it’s easy to find things to watch in French these days. The below are my recommendations, as they worked well for me. Some of them aren’t films I know but I thought why not include them here, so here you are:
- Peppa Pig / Friends (I’m including these for beginners who have excess time to spend doing this)
- Call My Agent (otherwise known as ‘Ten Percent’), currently found on Netflix. There’s a British-produced version, but to be honest, I preferred the original French. It can be quite fast-paced but you’ll find you’ll be able to pick up a fair amount of what’s going on.
- Jean de Florette – a classic French film, starring Gérard Dépardieu, don’t let the fact that it was made 35 years ago put you off!
- Manon des Sources – the sequel to the above, if you liked that, you’ll like this.
- Armour – Ranked no.18 in Timeout’s all-time best 100 French films, made in 2012, it’s a romantic drama that has won many awards.
Of course, there are hundreds of films and TV shows you can watch that were created originally in French. The above are just my favourites.
When will I be able to understand French movies?
If you’re a beginner, you won’t be able to understand them at all. Maybe, if you watch some popular programmes that you know (a popular example is ‘Friends’ as I mentioned in the list above) then perhaps you’ll be able to pick out some bits as you’ll remember what they said in English when you first watched it.
However, as I said above – unless you have a lot of time to spare, watching French films isn’t going to do you much good until you’re slightly more skilled.
Therefore, if we’re saying that you won’t understand French films until you’re an intermediate – then how long will that take? Well, the simple answer is that it depends on how much time you’ve got to learn each day.
If you’re a typical French learner, who started to learn from scratch (like me) and you only have an hour or two each day to put into it, then it’s probably not worth starting to even try watching films in French for around a year. Up to that point your time is better spent doing other things to try and get you up to the level needed to even understand some of what’s going on!
Watching French films (without subtitles) is a very good way to increase your comprehension of the spoken French language. However, trying to comprehend French films before you’re in a position to really understand them may send you in the wrong direction due to the shear frustration it can create.
I know how this feels first hand. In a similar manner, in the early days of studying I thought I was making progress and decided to listen to some French radio. It set me back (mentally) quite a bit when I discovered that actually, I knew nothing! I literally couldn’t understand a word!
So, by all means use this method if you have some half-decent comprehension of French already but otherwise, be prepared to discover your understanding isn’t quite as good as you’d hoped!