YouTube is an amazing tool for learning languages.
That’s one of the reasons I have my own YouTube channel. In fact, I started posting videos on YouTube before I started this blog. Some of the videos were even in other languages!
There’s only one problem with YouTube…there’s just so much there!
The amount of content on YouTube is mind-boggling. But there is gold hidden among the videos of cute animals, wannabe pop stars and the amateur films. If you know what to look for, YouTube can become an excellent resource in your mission to learn a language.
Here are a few ways you can use YouTube to become a better language learner.
1. Look for Online Language Courses
There are plenty of language learning courses on YouTube, and they’re all free!
Finding a course is pretty simple. In the YouTube search box type ‘(your target language) online courses’ into the search bar. You’ll be surprised by how many videos come up.
Once you start watching videos to learn your target language, YouTube will automatically recommend others that are suitable for your level.
2. Look for TV Shows and Movies in Your Target Language
I’ve heard arguments that watching foreign TV shows or movies can be a waste of time for language learners. I disagree – as long as you don’t fall into the habit of passive learning.
The important thing is to really pay attention to the TV show or film. Look up and write down words you don’t understand, and be willing to play the video several times until you fully understand it. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn by getting familiar with a single TV episode.
YouTube is a fantastic resource for finding both films and TV shows – in almost any language you can think of.
You’d be surprised by what you can find on there. Studying German? You’re in luck – the entire first season of Inspector Rex is available on YouTube. You can find the first episode of the popular Spanish TV series Cuéntame cómo pasó on there too.
Not sure where to get started? Do a quick Google search to find out the most popular TV shows in your target language. Then look for those shows on YouTube. Before you know it, you’ll have a pretty decent-sized queue of videos lined up to watch in your new language!
3. Follow Language Vloggers
Vloggers are people who blog using video. Just like me!
People vlog about just about anything. Whatever you’re interested in, chances are you can find a vlog in your target language about it. Your job is to find them.
Whatever your interest – beauty, travel, fashion, video games, etc. – translate it to your target language, enter it into the YouTube search bar, and see what comes up.
What to do when you’ve found the videos? Treat it as you would any listening exercise. Listen to pronunciation. Write down words you’re unfamiliar with. Try repeating sentences. Go out and buy that new blush they recommend (just kidding).
4. Comment On Videos in Your Target Language
This method takes courage. People really do love to share their opinions, so what’s stopping you from expressing yours? A mere language barrier? I think not!
Take the plunge. If you see a video you feel strongly about, then say what you’re thinking! Just be sure to say it in your new language. Think about phrasing and how best to express your opinion. Then, just put it out there.
The beauty of the Internet is, that if people think you’re wrong, they’ll be happy to tell you so. So, if you make a grammatical mistake, someone will probably feel it is their civil duty to tell you.
Don’t feel disheartened. Look at it this way: you’re getting your work marked for free!
5. Find Videos with Transcripts to Read as You Listen
Listening to a video online and finding it difficult to keep up with the pace?
Fortunately, many videos in foreign languages feature either subtitles or transcripts, which you can read while listening to the audio. By doing this, you’ll find it far easier to keep up with what’s being said, and won’t find yourself lost in a series of words or phrases you don’t understand.
The key is to make sure you don’t end up relying too heavily on the transcript or subtitle.
Study what you listen to. Pause the video often and write down the translation, if it’s something that you’re not completely sure of.
6. Slow Down YouTube Videos
When you’re learning a language, native speakers talking at normal speed can seem fast-paced. Don’t feel bad if you’re finding it hard to keep up with the video you’re watching. The more you practise, the quicker you’ll learn to decipher what’s being said. It’s one of those skills that you pick up over time.
Until that moment comes, try slowing the videos down, so that the dialogue is being said at a pace you understand.
The easiest way of doing this is to press the < and > keys on your keyboard, which are the default keys for changing the video speed. But this may not be the case for you if you have a non-English keyboard or have changed your settings. In that case, click the “cog” symbol in the lower right corner of the video to open the settings, then click “speed”. You can then adjust the speed to whatever works best for you.
7. Search for Songs in Your Target Language
Music is a fun way to improve your listening skills and pick up new vocabulary.
Unlike TV shows and movies, pretty much every popular song in existence has its own music video, which is available on YouTube.
Get to know the bands or solo artist who sing their songs in your target language, then look them up online. Once you’ve found the songs, get singing!
The beauty of YouTube, is that you can play these songs, for free, as many times as you like. Once you’ve memorized the lyrics, you can move to the bathroom and practise your vocal range as you take your morning shower.
8. Upload Your Own Practice Videos
Here’s another step that takes a bit of courage to execute.
I believe it’s important to keep yourself accountable when undertaking a task like learning a foreign language. One of the ways of doing this is to start a blog. Another is to upload videos of your progress to YouTube.
It really isn’t as scary as it sounds! I know putting yourself out there can seem incredibly daunting at first. Yet, it is fear that primarily stops many of us from doing the things we want to do. Once we overcome this fear, we start to realise just how far our capabilities as human beings can extend.
Suddenly, all our hopes and dreams don’t seem so ridiculously out of reach.
Uploading videos of your progress to YouTube can help in many ways. You’ll get over your fear of speaking in a foreign tongue in public. It will help hold you accountable to your goal. Your videos may also reach a new audience, and rally a positive community around you. You’ll also pick up a new skill – video editing isn’t quite as simple as it looks!
Not sure of where to start? Never fear. I’ve been recording and uploading videos in a foreign language for quite a few years now and have picked up many tricks along the way.
Once you’ve created your video, you can share it with the Fluent in 3 Months (Fi3M) community here.
9. Translate YouTube Comments
Sometimes, YouTube comments are more entertaining than the video (I should know – I’ve received stacks of comments on Fi3M over the years, many of which I’ve enjoyed).
If you happen to find a video in your target language that you feel confident you understand, try your hand at translating the comments underneath!
You may end up feeling quite confused. You might lose a little bit of faith in humanity. Either way, you’ll be amused.
Bonus points if you take the time to reply to a comment in your target language.
10. Subscribe to Polyglot Channels
There are loads of polyglots around the world with a strong online presence. These people are the ultimate language hackers – there’s a lot you can learn from them.
I’ve uploaded tons of videos in many different languages over the years. My friends Lucas Lampariello, Susanna Zaraysky, Steve Kaufmann, Olly Richards, Lindsay Williams and Richard Simcott each have their own YouTube channels, on which they vlog fairly regularly.
We’ve each dealt with our own challenges in language learning, and have managed to overcome them to get where we are today.
Have a burning desire to find out how we did it? Subscribe to our YouTube channels to learn our secrets!
As you can see, YouTube can be a handy language-learning tool – as long as you approach it the right way.
Do you use YouTube to learn languages? If you’ve got any hints or tricks, please let me know in the comments.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.