In this post, I introduce a technique I am using to learn German while looking at movies. The technique forces me to be less passive than when looking at a movie just for entertainment. Why do I want to force me to be less passive? Well,  as I explained in previous posts active learning can help people to learn faster and better because our memory records and recalls information better when we actively engage with it.

The technique is very simple: the learner watches the movie in the target language and tries to repeat the actors’ lines. When the speed of the speech is too high for the learner’s level, the learner can pause and rewind as many times as needed. The very simple act of reciting will help the learner in any aspect of language learning: building sentences correctly, intonation, pronunciation, learning common informal expression for many different situations (you have to choose the right movies!).

To make learning more effective the learner can recite the same lines several times and vary the speed, the intonation, and the volume.  It seems that we are better designed to record information when is presented in different ways and contrasted and compared with other information. That is why a lecture where the lecturer maintains the same tone of voice all the time would be more boring and less effective than a lecture where the lecturer modulates the tone differently and give different emphasis to different points. In other words, some peaks and valleys make a speech more memorable than a flat tone.

One simple reason why reciting movies’ lines can help you to learn faster than just looking passively in the same movie is that when we engage actively with some information we are forced to give them more attention. Indeed, right now I can follow the plot of many movies in German but when I try to repeat actors’ lines I discover that there are many lines that my ears cannot catch and/or that I don’t understand. Why this discrepancy? One reason is that our brain is really good at filling up holes, or connecting the dots when some information is missing. Indeed, many memories of our past are not the exact record of what happened in the past but a reconstruction that our brain made by filling up some “holes” in the records.

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