3 Ways to Use YouTube to Learn a Language

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Youtube is a great resource for language learning. No, it isn’t made specifically for language learners. It doesn’t have the fancy features of Duolingo, and similar apps.

However, Youtube has a secret weapon.

Okay… that is a bit dramatic. But it certainly has great opportunities for language learners in all sorts of ways. Today, I will teach you three of those opportunities so that you can benefit from this amazing, FREE platform to the maximum!

Why Youtube?

I hear you. I can tell (with my psychic mind-reading powers😉) that you are thinking “Why YouTube? There are hundreds of resources all over the internet made specifically for language learners. Why use youtube?”

Well, there are many reasons! Here are a few...

  1. YouTube has over 82 YEARS of content uploaded to its platform every day! (source)

This gives us access to crazy amounts of video from all across the world, in different languages and about different topics (languages included!). See how this wide variety of content might be good for us?...

2. It is free for all of the features that we need as language learners. 

You have the opportunity to upgrade for the fancy stuff such as offline watching or ad-free experience, but it functions absolutely fine without the money. This is a lovely change from a lot of the “free” resources we use that restrict the amount of lessons we get, or make us pay for certain basic features.

3. It has subtitles

Admittedly, not everything has subtitles... but google supplies auto-generated ones which are reasonable for getting the “gist” of what is going on. And, also, usually youtubers are pretty consistent on their subtitle/caption-usage, so once you have found a good youtuber who uses captions then you can generally rely on them to have subtitles in all of their other videos as well.

4. These subtitles can be automatically translated!

Another great thing about YouTube captions specifically (as a pose to captions on other sites) is that you get the opportunity to “auto-translate” the captions into another language. This is only on desktop, but very useful even so. These subtitles will come in handy for the second way to use YouTube - read on to find out why! 

The First Way: Motivation and Experiences

The first way to use YouTube is the way that you are reading this blog! There are tons of YouTubers from polyglots and language learners giving you motivation and inspiration, like the blogs you read. (I will show you some great ones in an upcoming post - come back for that!)

Like language bloggers, they give you their experience and mistakes to learn from; they tell you great tips with their opinions and explanations on how to learn a language and other topics; they show you their language learning journeys; and they help you out with yours! However, YouTube lets you subscribe to your favourite language learners and find new ones a lot easier than just searching the internet! Basically, YouTube has good, free info easily in a place that most of us spend all of our spare time anyway…

These YouTubers are also mainly great for making you feel guilty for scrolling YouTube in your language learning time! 😂

 

The Second Way: Listening to Native Speakers

About The Native-Made Videos for Language Learning

As I said earlier on, YouTube has a LOT of content on it from all over the world, and users watch the videos from just as many places. 

Not everyone in the world speaks your native language, as we know. Therefore, there are YouTube videos in many languages (pretty much every modern language you can think of) from the people speaking that language natively… See where I am leading with this?

If you don’t, don’t worry - I won’t leave you hanging. I am leading to the fact that listening (especially to native speakers) is pretty vital to your language learning. 

As we just found out, we can take advantage of the videos made for the people in your target language country. On YouTube, you have limitless topic opportunities and accents and personalities! This means there are videos for everyone - yes, that means you!

 

How to Use These Target Language Youtube Videos to the Maximum

Now we know how great these videos are, it would kinda be good to know how to use them! There are a few things that you can do to maximise their usefulness…

  1. Subtitles

Subtitles can be VERY useful! Whether in your target language or in your native language, they can help you understand the content of the video instead of tripping over words you didn’t catch. 

However, you don’t need to use them necessarily: there are pros and cons (that I list below), so I find it is best to have a mixture of native language, target language and no captions.

Pros to native language captions (captions in your first language - in my case, English captions on czech videos) include: being able to find translations to the words being used while the video plays without pausing and also having something to fall back on when you don’t understand part of the video. That said, they can also have a negative effect on your learning - it is easy to read the captions and not actually listen to the sound (which means you won’t actually learn anything in the language). Also, real-life conversations (and many shows when you get into more advanced material) don’t have captions in your native language, so becoming too reliant on them won’t be any use in a lot of situations. In summary, captions in your native language are great for understanding what is going on, but if you get too lazy with them then they will become a hindrance. 

Quick tip: if you would like to use captions in your native language but there aren’t any, try the auto-translate feature on desktop. This will use google translate to automatically give the captions translated to your language! I don’t recommend doing this to change native language content to your target language, because the translation isn’t very reliable (it is good enough to give you the gist in your first language, but isn’t helpful to teach you the correct sentence structure of something or teach the words that sound non-robot).

Pros to target language captions are that you learn the pronunciation of the words AND the spelling at the same time (like reading along to an audiobook), and you also get used to the way words are said (which helps you pick up spelling patterns naturally). There are a few obvious cons: the first is that you can sometimes get confused as to what is going on, at a beginner level in the language; the second is that, like with other captions, they don’t exist when talking in real life. In summary, you can read the words as you hear them, but they are harder for beginners than native captions and also don’t help in real conversations.

Note: not every video will have captions, but you can find some great youtubers who consistently use captions, so stick with them. The auto-generated captions are generally alright, but not as reliable as ones set by the creator/community.

Pros to not using captions are that you aren't limited to captioned shows later on in your language learning journey, you have a better listening comprehension (understanding) in conversations, and more which I will list another day. Cons to no captions are that you don't always understand what is going on, and also you don't associate the spoken words to the written spelling. In summary, you don't have to rely on captions later on, but you don't have any written words to associate the spoken ones with.

So, basically, it is up to personal preference - take your level, goals, time to spend and purpose of watching into account when choosing.

2. Comments

Comments is a language learning tool which I haven't seen talked about anywhere else. I love using comments for languages because they are so short and such a quick exercise to do in a spare moment. 

There are two ways to utilise comments: reading comments and writing comments.

There are comments on most videos (excluding a few things like kids shows), and of course they will generally be in the language of the video. On a video in your target language, look through the comments section and try to translate any comments that pop out at you: find words that you recognise and look at how they are used in context of informal/text situations. Bear in mind that they are often very informal, and include text abbreviations and other words that aren’t applicable to real conversations in most cases. Even so, it can be very useful for learning usable (non-text) words like ‘song,’ that come up a lot, depending on the video type. Pro tip: you can look at emojis to get an understanding of parts of the comment - use them if you get stuck!

Comments are also a great way to practice writing in your target language, through small and manageable chunks. The nice thing about writing comments as a language learning activity is that it doesn’t feel like a daunting task - you can easily do it with very little effort or thought. However, the downside to writing comments (as a pose to texting a language partner or something else) is that they are unlikely to be marked, so you probably won’t find out if you said something wrong.

3. Taking notes

When watching foreign videos, you have the option to take (or not take) notes. Notes might include words that you pick up, figures of speech, parts you don’t understand in the videos (to look up later) and anything else useful to you. 

Notes can be helpful to give you material to revise, to jog your memory later, or to track your progress. However, sometimes it can be just as beneficial to fully immerse yourself in the video, without any pausing to write things down or look them up. 

I recommend alternating between options, to get the best of both the notes and the no-notes experience. 

 

The Third Way: Online Language Teachers

This is my favourite - the hidden gem of YouTube… The third way to use YouTube in your language learning schedule is using youtube videos made to teach you the language.

YouTube language teachers explain lots of different aspects of the language, from pronunciation to cases to conversational wording changes. There are loads of language teachers on YouTube, and they cover different things in different ways. Try out a few different ones to decide which fits your learning style best.

To find a teacher, either search “Czech language teacher” (or the equivalent for the language that you are learning) into YouTube, or you can search for a specific topic you are struggling with (“Czech past tense” or “czech alphabet pronunciation”). Once you get past the robotic voiceover channels (nothing wrong with these, but actual people tend to be better with pronunciation) in the search results, you will find some videos from different channels. Try out a few to see which you understand best. Sometimes, you might not grasp the concept first time, as it isn’t catered to you specifically. After watching a few videos though, you will hopefully find a few channels that you like, with teaching styles that help you comprehend the information easily.

For Czech, I recommend Czech a Anglický with Rich and if you are learning English (or are interested in what people learning English get taught like I am), I like to watch English with Lucy.

In conclusion, YouTube is a really great resource for language learners, if used right. You can use it for motivation, listening practice, and even to learn new grammar. It is brilliant!

Thank you so much for reading - I hope that you enjoyed the post. If you did, head over to pinterest and follow us to find out when the next post is released (it’s about amazing language blogs to follow, so stick around to find out which amazing blogs you should read after this one!).

Bye!

 

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