Binge-watching movies on Netflix or another streaming service may not sound like the best workout for your brain, but the opposite is actually true if you watch the movie in the foreign language you are studying. For our target language, we are looking at French movies. The key is to turn on the audio and subtitles in French to improve your language skills while watching countless hours of your favorite movies. Of course, if you are a very beginning level foreign language student, trying to understand sentences will potentially be very frustrating. There are a few tricks to decrease any possible frustration as you watch. Check out these shows and French movies to learn French along with tips for optimum viewing for language learners.
As you start out your language ventures by watching movies and shows in French, you might start with Netflix’s The Volcano: Rescue from Whakaari. While this documentary is in English, you can switch the language settings to French audio and French subtitles. The documentary recounts the harrowing volcanic eruption on White Island which is off the coast of the of New Zealand on December 9, 2019. When watching, you may want to adjust the playback speed. You might also need to look up a word or weren’t quite able to hear the dialogue clearly. When that happens, you can pause, rewind or fast forward. Your watching experience can be very satisfying in terms of your French learning because of the customization as noted above: use a slower playback speed, freeze the frame when you need to look up a word, and then try guessing the meanings of new vocabulary from the context and pictures.
Perhaps you’re feeling a bit nostalgic and want to watch an animated film as you improve your French. In addition to having French audio and subtitles available, these Disney+ titles also take place in a French setting:
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Sleeping Beauty
- Lady and the Tramp
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- Captain Marvel
Watching authentic French films/TV shows in the native French language is another great option when choosing what will help you learn French. Here is a list of some Netflix favorites:
1. Call My Agent! – rated for Mature Audiences (MA), this TV show débuted in 2015 and chronicles the stressful and frenetic work lives of French movie star agents. Several famous French (and not French) celebrities make guest appearances: Sigourney Weaver (Season 4, Episode 5), Isabelle Adjani, Monica Bellucci, and Isabelle Huppert. The dialogue is extremely fast paced so Intermediate users will probably want to adjust the playback speed. The actors are very believable and quite funny at times – particularly Nicolas Maury as Hervé André-Jezak.
2. La Vie scolaire (School Life) – 2019 (rated MA) is a critically-acclaimed teen comedy drama about the challenges faced by a new vice principal at a Paris suburb middle school. She is warned by other teachers about the unmotivated and undisciplined teens at the school. This movie is full of teenage slang, expletives, and fast dialogue so this film may be more suited for intermediate and advanced students. But it gives a realistic view at an inner city French middle school.
3. Journey to Greenland – rated TV-14, this is a 2016 comedy that feels like a documentary. It’s the story of two 30-something part-time actors (Thomas and Thomas). The lead Thomas’ father relocated 20 years ago to Kullorsuaq, an Inuit community in Greenland. The two friends decide to visit Thomas’ dad whom he has not seen in a few years. During their months long stay, the two men become friendly with the local Inuit families and also navigate the difficulties of learning the dialect, ice fishing, seal hunting, local customs. The men have to mentally/emotionally deal with the necessities of hunting and watching the Inuit people skin, gut, cut, and eat raw meat. The ending is particularly French and heartwarming.
4. Stuck Together – this is a 2021 comedy rated MA. The film starts with a sober acknowledgement from French president Emmanuel Macron who warns his nation of the Covid pandemic, “Nous sommes en guerre.” The film focuses on the lives of seven quirky French families who rent apartments in an apartment building in Paris during the lockdown while the rest of the streets are eerily silent. One of the residents is a doctor/scientist who is trying to develop a COVID vaccine. The children of the film seem to know how to get along better than the neighbors. Funny and touching.
5. L’Ascension (The Climb)- 2017 – This adventure-comedy film is also like a documentary as it tells the true story of Nadir Dendoune, who, in 2008, became the first French-Algerian to successfully reach the summit of Mt. Everest. The story is particularly remarkable because he has no physical training or mountaineering experience but wants to impress a girl who he meets while living in a Paris suburb called, “93.” Ahmed Sylla is fantastic playing the lead role as Samy Diakhate, the fictional name of the climber. This film is a good one for advanced beginners because there is not a huge amount of dialogue but more climbing scenes.
If you want to find French language movies on Amazon, they will likely offer subtitles in English rather than French. Using French subtitles is critical to the learning process, so it may be best to start with our list and go from there.
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