How to Use Netflix to Learn a New Language
If you can’t pack up and study in a foreign country, simulate a foreign environment at home
The best way to learn a new language, as you probably already know, is through 24/7 immersion. Move to a place where that language is spoken, converse with the locals, allow the ambient spoken and written words to soak into your brain.
It’s certainly efficient, but it’s also not exactly realistic for anyone with a job or a family or a mortgage. Fortunately, the next best option can be accomplished a lot closer to home. To simulate a foreign language environment in your own living room, all you need to do is change some settings in your Netflix account.
I’m not saying you can expect to flip on Train to Busan and suddenly become fluent in Korean, but as long as you’re motivated to actually use Netflix to study, it can be a fantastic language-learning tool. I’ll be sharing some tips on how to maximize its potential, using Spanish as an example, though of course, you could use these strategies for any language supported by Netflix. (Also, subtitles and foreign audio can be easily enabled on most streaming boxes, but some of the other tips require — or are at least much easier to do — using a computer.)
With that in mind, vamos!
The great thing about using Netflix to learn a language is there are many titles available with foreign language audio tracks. To start browsing, head to the audio and subtitles section.
This page will show all the titles Netflix has available in your chosen language. Sometimes this means the title was natively recorded in your target language, while other times it’s just a dubbed audio track. Unfortunately, Netflix does not currently have an option to sort between the two.
Still, you can use this page to find titles that will at least support your target language. So far, Netflix has content in 25 languages, including Mandarin, Russian, and Urdu, among others. You can find a partial list of Netflix’s foreign shows on Wikipedia. Search for your preferred language, and then see what’s available in your territory. It’s not perfect, but if you want natively produced content, this is a good list.
Try Netflix Originals
Another good place to start is with any Netflix original series you’ve been itching to watch. All Netflix original shows are available both dubbed and subtitled in a bevy of languages, including Spanish. Taking the time to translate all their original content into several languages was a major part of Netflix’s international expansion plan.
Netflix has also been aggressive in producing and distributing international content, including the popular original shows Dark (Germany), La Casa de Papel (Spain), Roma (Mexico), Marseille (France), Suburra: Blood on Rome (Italy). When you can, try to find a show originally produced in the language you want to learn, which will be a more accurate depiction of how that language is actually spoken.
This is La Casa De Papel, a Spanish drama that found a new life on Netflix (it’s called Money Heist in English). La Casa De Papel was filmed in Spain with Spanish-speaking actors, so the dialogue, accents, and speaking speed are much more realistic than you’d find on an English showed dubbed into Spanish.
Subbed or dubbed?
There are two ways to watch foreign language movies: subtitled (subbed) or dubbed. Subtitles keep the original language audio while showing a translation in your target language at the bottom of the screen. Audio dubs involve re-recording the voices into a new language. This is a more intuitive method for viewers, although a notorious problem for dubs is that the voices won’t appear in sync with the characters’ lips. Dubs also often simplify dialogue.
Here in the U.S., you can get La Casa De Papel in the original Spanish, or listen to dubbed audio tracks in English, German, French, or Italian. You can get the show subtitled in any of those languages, plus traditional or simplified Mandarin Chinese. (The language availability does change depending on your geographical location). But for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you’re an English speaker watching the show to practice your Spanish. You can mix and match subs and dubs in a number of different ways to practice. Depending on your proficiency level, you can choose to:
- Watch the show with English dialogue and Spanish subtitles (beginner)
- Watch with Spanish dialogue and English subtitles (intermediate)
- You can watch with Spanish audio and Spanish subtitles (expert)
- You can watch with only the Spanish audio and no subtitles (master)
Display subtitles in English and another language on Netflix
Sometimes it can be useful to see a side-by-side translation in your native language and your target language. Netflix doesn’t support this by default, but there is a free Google Chrome extension called “Language Learning With Netflix” that hacks this functionality. This obviously only works in the Chrome web browser, and can’t be used on streaming media boxes.
Change your account language
A small tip, but a useful one: While on a computer, head to language preferences. On this page, you can set your account language to your target language, which will change all top-level text in Netflix into that language. This means category names, navigation elements, emails, and the “Are you still watching?” notification will all change.
Since you are likely familiar with what these messages should say, you will be able to navigate the Netflix interface in another language with few issues, while learning new vocabulary. You will have to struggle a bit more than normal to navigate your Netflix library, but the challenge helps you learn.
Testing your knowledge of a language in this way is proven to help long-term recall and retention. By using this method, you are “tricking” your brain into studying language via test and recall. More fun than flashcards, no?
This change will only affect your profile, meaning that other people who share your account won’t be inconvenienced.
While these are great first steps, remember that language needs to be spoken to be truly learned. So sign up for a class at a local community college, or travel if you have the means. Seek out native speakers in your own community. Then, in your downtime, check out some new shows.