I'm not a native English speaker. Where I live, English movies get dubbed. However, I hear a lot of people watch TV series or movies in English (over the internet) for several reasons, like getting the original dialogue and also to improve on their language skills.

I would like to get out of my comfort zone and start to watch movies in English myself. Here's what I experienced so far:

  1. In a foreign country with a foreign language, I went to see Taken 2 without any subtitles in English. Not necessarily because I expected an extremely awesome movie, but to kill some time. Also, I had seen the previous movie in the series in my native language. Following the plot was very easy and I enjoyed the visit to the cinema.
  2. This year, I went to see the non-dubbed original Jason Bourne in a local cinema, with subtitles. Again, I have seen the previous instalments of the series in my native language. The subtitles were very distracting. I often found myself being able to follow the plot, but not necessarily understanding every word of the spoken language. I also noticed that my brain was often quicker reading the text from screen than understanding the audio. What I understood from the English audio was never that far off, but I clearly missed a few catch phrases. I found that Tommy Lee Jones's character was especially hard to understand.

Now I wonder if I was really able to follow Taken 2 that easily or if I was simply not aware of which phrases I missed to understand due to the lack of subtitles. Or is it in fact the other way round and some movies (actors) employ the language more heavily as an artistic way to shape characters, which might have been the case for CIA director Robert Dewey? For example, I heard that Leonardo DiCaprio got some praise for the accent he gave his character in Blood Diamond, which made me shy away from watching that movie in English.

My goal would be to not only be able to follow the plot at ease, but also catch the fine details of dialogue and language that were purposefully inserted by the artists that crafted the movie. In order to enjoy future visits to the cinema, I'd like to know

How do I decide which movies to watch? What I could think of so far: please note that the following ones are not exactly the questions that have to be answered, just what I was asking myself

  • Watching a movie of which a previous instalment is know helps. Does that imply that it's actually better to watch TV series, as they provide a more constant environment over multiple episodes?
  • Are certain types of movies (like action movies for example) easier to follow and use less advanced language?
  • Would it be a good idea to rewatch movies I have already seen in my native language in English, so that the plot is even easier to follow?
  • Is there some kind of rating on movies how difficult/advanced the language is, especially for non native speakers?
  • Is it just a matter of experience and getting used to it? Say for example with some video-on-demand service, which makes it a lot easier to tune in to some English movie in an otherwise mostly dubbed cinematic environment?
  • Is watching movies with subtitles a bad idea?

I see how this is a language related question that might be better asked at English Language Learners. However, the language is just the tool here. I'd like to get answers from movie enthusiasts that might have had the same problem. I hope this is one of the subjective questions that's allowed here.

  • While this may be an interesting question, it is basically asking for advice/recommendations, which is considered off-topic here. - Not everyone learns a language the same way, what helps someone else, might not help you (and vice versa) - It's also not clear how well you speak English right now, or what your difficulties are (your written English seems perfectly fine).
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 20:05
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    @Oliver_C please join the discussion to help me improve my question or point out if it's a lost cause. thanks Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 23:01
  • You can try the intensive approach (which is one way I, as a native English speaker, do for Italian, French, etc. Watch a lot of movies in the target languages (which kind is not that important if they use everyday language--so sci fi many not be the best choice). Most movies and tv shows are going to use the same common phrases in many many contexts (discussions among household members, among work colleagues, with people at stores). In English and Romance languages there is a core spoken vocabulary of 500-1000 words (maybe a bit more) that you wull hear often and start to understand... Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 14:16
  • ...especially if you are also reviewing/studying these words in other contexts, whether in simple readers, from podcasts, from textbooks, from conversations with native speakers, from songs. The key to intensive learning is similar to immersion: you hear the same stuff over and over in the same context and you eventually start to pick up on the meaning and function of such utterances. I also recommend non-grammar based learning materials such as Assimil. The key to language learning is motivation and encountering language in rich, meaningful, real-life contexts keeps that motivation high. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 14:20

1 Answer 1


The responses here will be subjective, but I am writing because I feel what you are talking about. I speak native English, but I know Italian and French to some degree and have watched movies in those languages with varying success. The reasons for this are varied, but here are some of my observations:

  • Slang is hard to learn in a school. If you were never immersed into an English environment, you will have to learn it as you watch the movie (hard to do).
  • The education level of the dialog will directly bear on how much you comprehend.
  • The speed with which the characters speak will determine how much you get.
  • The action in the plot will determine whether you can follow the plot without the needs for words.
  • Understanding song is much harder.

What I found that works (if you are interested in understanding the whole movie, just watching it again, and/or learning more English):

  • See the movie dubbed in your native language. If they did a good job dubbing, you will get the entertainment value, and you may decide it's worth it to watch again.
  • See the movie in the language it was filmed in, preferable in a format that you can rewind. Now enjoy it as much as you like. Watching with a friend will help.
  • If there is song, read the lyrics/libretto beforehand.
  • 6
    also, rent it and watch it (in its native language, preferable English) with English subs. That way you listen and read at the same time. Since you have already seen the movie, you can consentrate on the language.
    – andrew
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 10:39
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    That'd be my advice too. Also, watch TV series with the English subtitles on, so you have the time to get used to the characters' mannerisms and speech patterns.
    – Stephane
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 20:03
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    To the good John's answer I would add (from my experience) that the first step of seeing the film dubbed can be skipped if you are able to understand the film with English subtitles. However, if your intention is practising listening the language, as the last stage I always try to watch the movie without subtitles, because if subtitles are present I can't try to understand without reading.
    – Pere
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 11:51

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