Best way to learn a language by yourself? Try Netflix.

Updated: Jul 21

The popular streaming service may be the most entertaining way

to help you achieve language fluency at home

by Chelsea La Near


There’s so much technology at our fingertips to help us learn a new language from home or on the go, but you might not have considered your favorite streaming service to be such a powerful language learning tool. As video streaming platforms increasingly go global and compete for international audiences, they’re starting to not only offer a larger selection of subtitles and voice overs, but also original content in different languages. This means a wealth of opportunities to make learning a language as entertaining as, well, watching TV!


When it comes to language options, not all streaming services are equal - not yet anyways. While platforms like Hulu and HBO have big international plans, and Amazon Prime is working hard to acquire more global content, Netflix currently reigns supreme in providing the most foreign language options and original content. If you’re new to using streaming platforms as a tool for education, these Netflix language learning tips will help you get the most out of your downtime and replace your TV binge guilt with a sense of accomplishment.


1. Download the Language Learning with Netflix Chrome extension.


Like, right now! This incredible free tool adds additional features, including more language choices, to help you learn. Among other customizable components is a collapsible dialogue sidebar that views like a script where you can isolate and replay subtitles at slower speeds. There’s also the option to view subtitles in two languages so you can compare the foreign text to your own language.


My favorite feature allows you to click on a word to show a pop-up dictionary with translations, synonyms, and examples!


The extension is overall very user-friendly and easy to turn off when not in use, and has plans to expand to Amazon Prime this year! Before you can use the extension, you need to first know how to to change the language on Netflix. There's a little dialogue button at the bottom right for Netflix language settings. Just click on it and different audio and subtitle choices will appear.


2. Embrace dubbed content.


I know - it’s never quite the same, but new technology has substantially improved the art of dubbing. When it’s done right with good voice actors, it takes little away from the authentic content. There’s also plenty of animated or narrated shows where it really doesn’t make a difference. Nature documentaries, like Our Planet and Night on Earth, are great for intermediate language learners because the narration is slow and tells you exactly what you see, not to mention you'll also be educating yourself about science.


The Adventures of Puss in Boots, a feisty Netflix animation, probably works better in a romance language anyways. I also like Carmen Sandiego and any Dreamworks productions (All Hail King Julien, Tales of Arcadia, Spirit, etc.).


3. Watch content native to the language you’re learning.


What better way to immerse yourself in a language than to watch material made uniquely for native speakers. Netflix has plenty of quality international shows to choose from, and all original programs usually have quite a few subtitle options. Using the LLN Chrome extension can open up even more choices. To search all content in a specific language, type it into the Netflix search bar. An option to explore titles related to that language will appear above the content choices.


You can select TV, movies, critically-acclaimed, comedies, etc. Once you click on what you’re searching for, you can see all the content Netflix offers in that language.

I remember being nearly brought to tears when during my senior year of high school, the local Blockbuster finally had a French language DVD in their foreign language films section (with maybe 15 other titles, mostly Spanish). It was Amélie, and my life was forever changed. I watched it over and over, pausing and rewinding frequently to make sure I understood every word. It's still one of my favorite movies despite how many times I've seen it, but I can't imagine how much more fun I could've had learning French if I had the options streaming services give us now. Kids these days just don't know how good they have it when it comes to language learning (cue #okboomer eye rolls).

Chelsea La Near, M. Ed., is a writer, wanderluster, and language education professional from Missouri who spent the past 9 years teaching abroad in East Asia and is currently based in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @chelsealanear and Instagram @thenearsea for more.


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