Demi Lovato Taught Me English

This blog post discusses how the globalization of media and entertainment has facilitated learning other languages just by consuming content.

Audio-visual styles of learning languages have been around for a long time. Whether it be CDs at the back of textbooks or cassettes to learn a conversational language level. More recently, TV shows like Dora the Explorer have become popular for learning a new language. Although many schools provide language courses to learn second or even third languages as part of their curriculum from my personal experiences as well as friends and family I have seen that to fully learn a language and remember it the most important thing is putting one’s self in a position where you constantly hear that language being spoken.

Endless possibilities at the click of a button

In the early 2000s, personal computers for students started becoming a prerequisite in schools. Many families also had a family desktop, facilitating people’s access to shows online from other countries.

I have a personal connection to this topic because it is how I learned English. When I was seven years old I moved to Japan and attended an international school. The issue was my previous school in Spain had not prepared me well enough to speak or write in English. On my first day, I had to memorize the phrase “where is the toilet?” and aside from that I only knew basic pleasantries. This all changed when I began watching English series and movies. The early 2000s marked a big explosion in popular Disney shows. With it came Hannah Montana, Sonny With a Chance, and The Suite Life of Zach and Cody (to name a few). All of the girls in my school were watching these American shows in English so I started watching them too, and copying their accents. Then, something interesting happened. I started expanding my vocabulary and suddenly I was reading basic books and I even started speaking in the American accent I have to this day. Thinking back I think what helped me learn the most was my obsession with the movie Camp Rock starring Demi Lovato. This movie was geared around singing and since I loved to sing it helped me engage with what was being said. The experience I had was very different from my cousins, who prefer to watch all their TV dubbed and weren’t interested in learning to speak English with a specific accent. I was able to take what I was learning from watching these shows and movies and apply it to in-school interactions.

Cockney Dutch and other accents

Moving to the Netherlands made me realize just how much watching specifically English-made shows and movies have impacted how certain people speak. During the first year of my studies, I noticed that some students had heavy British accents. I assumed that they had either gone to summer language camps in England or had a British relative. When I asked one of my classmates she explained to me that she got her British accent from watching TV shows like Skins. She explained that she liked the accent so much that she started to get more into British culture and she eventually integrated British slang and the London accent she speaks in. This experience is one felt by many other people in and out of the Netherlands and it is through shows and movies that it’s happening.

If you can’t fight them, join them!

More recently, many language programs are implementing movies and TV shows as part of the learning curriculum. There was a study conducted at the University of Halabja (Kurdistan). Eventually, the study concluded that students directly improved in the areas of reading, listening, speaking, and writing. It even suggested that watching these movies helped students learn their chosen language faster. From what I have experienced, most young adults I have met watch movies in the original language with subtitles. Even without the intention to fully learn a certain language, watching movies in their original language can make watchers learn simple phrases. More generally, I think it’s normalizing being open to learning something new in a more engaging way.