It’s common knowledge that immersion is the best way to become fluent in a foreign language, but how exactly can we immerse ourselves in a new language when international travel is not an option?
Watching YouTube videos is one of the most effective and fun ways to immerse yourself in your target language while simultaneously exploring topics you find interesting. In this guide we’ll show you how you can incorporate YouTube videos into your daily study routine to elevate your learning experience and become more fluent.
Table of Contents
- Our method for boosting our foreign language skills with YouTube
- YouTube channel recommendations for commonly studied languages
Our method for boosting our foreign language skills with YouTube
We use YouTube videos to optimize our language learning experience by combining listening comprehension, reading and vocab memorization. First, we watch videos with subtitles so we can identify any unfamiliar words. When we encounter something we don’t understand, we check Reverso’s Context dictionary for clarification. Then, if the word or phrase feels like something we should learn, we add it to our Anki flashcard deck so we can memorize it later.
Optimize your subtitles using Language Reactor
Sometimes learners make the mistake of trying to watch movies or videos without actually analyzing the script. We always recommend taking the time to analyze and understand a video’s subtitles in order to gain a deeper understanding.
We use a Chrome Plugin called Language Reactor to help us read and analyze subtitles as we watch YouTube videos. Language Reactor has a number of neat features designed specifically to help language learners use videos to study. It allows us to see the subtitles in both the video’s language and in English so we can follow along better, plus a line-by-line view (right side of the screen) so we can read the entire sentences.
Most notably, Language Reactor gives us click-to-translate subtitles to help us understand unknown words while watching videos. In the screenshot below we clicked on the Spanish word “serpientes (snakes)” to see its English translation:
Language Reactor makes it easy to analyze a video’s subtitles as you watch and the written context helps you better understand how sentences fit together. It also allows you to more easily watch at a slower pace and rewind or repeat lines you have trouble with.
Level up your comprehension with Reverso Context
It can sometimes be challenging to gain a comprehensive understanding of a word simply by putting it through a translator. That’s because words can have different meanings depending on the context. For example, an English learner might know the words “cut” and “chase” but not understand the idiom “cut to the chase.” Words can also appear in confusing, unfamiliar formats – think of conjugated verbs, plural nouns or case declensions.
Subtitles and one-to-one translation tools are helpful for getting a direct translation from your target language to English, but you might still need a bit more information to grasp the full meaning. Tools like Reverso Context can help us get a better grasp of the more confusing material we encounter, such as:
- colloquial or idiomatic phrases
- finding the base form (i.e. dictionary form) of a conjugated verb
- learning how a particular verb conjugation can be used in other ways
- seeing other meanings of a particular word
- figuring out whether or not a word is commonly used (and therefore worth learning)
Let’s illustrate this with an example. In this video “Why the french people don’t like the luxury cars” by innerFrench, Hugo highlights a reason French people prefer cheaper cars, then says, “Ça montre bien qu’ils préfèrent les voitures moins chères (That shows that they prefer cheaper cars).”
This example is confusing to us, however, since he says “Ça montre bien” which literally means “That shows well.” Why didn’t he simply say, “Ça montre (That shows)?” When we enter this into Reverso we can easily find the answer: “Ça montre bien” means “It clearly shows.”
Thus, “Ça montre bien qu’ils préfèrent les voitures moins chères,” means, “That clearly shows that they prefer cheaper cars.”
We use Reverso Context all the time when studying foreign languages. It allows us to search for multiple words at once, see different use cases for various words and phrases, and thus gain a deeper understanding of the language.
If you’re not familiar with Reverso Context, take a look at our guide for a more detailed explanation – it’s definitely worth your time.
Streamline vocab memorization using Anki
Have you ever encountered a word that you think you know, but in reality you don’t? This used to happen to us all the time. We used to think that we could just acquire words through exposure without actively memorizing them.
The fact is, if you really want to make significant progress in your target language you need to invest time in actively memorizing new vocabulary words you come across in your study routine, ideally using a spaced repetition system (SRS). Spaced repetition is a method of memorization whereby you learn new material and review it periodically over time, with increasing intervals between each review, to help the material “stick” in your long-term memory.
Anki is a flashcard app that uses spaced repetition to help language learners memorize new words and phrases. It lets you create your own decks and schedule the flashcards to appear at intervals over time based on how well you know each given flashcard, ensuring that material is reviewed at exactly the right time.
Let’s imagine we’re watching this German-language video about travel in Mexico. We come across the word “Tagesausflug (day trip)” and realize it’s a useful word we ought to learn:
We decide to pull a few sentence examples from Reverso Context and create a new Anki flashcard in our German deck:
We’ll see this new flashcard next time we study our German deck. We’ll be asked to rate how well we know the answer, and based on that rating the algorithm will decide when to show it again. Over time, the reviews will become less frequent as the “new word” we saw in the video works its way into our long-term memory.
YouTube channel recommendations for commonly studied languages
Ready to get started? We’ve compiled a list of YouTube channels for a handful of popular languages. We’ll note that most of these channels are intended for upper-intermediate and advanced learners.
- National Geographic España – National Geographic’s Spanish-language channel that covers topics like science, nature, and travel.
- Antonio de Viaje – Get to know the world (in Spanish!) with this travel channel.
- BBC Mundo – The BBC’s Spanish-language news channel, offering hundreds of short, informative videos covering relevant international topics.
- innerFrench – In this channel, Hugo helps learners study French through meaningful and thought-provoking topics.
- Echappées belles – A travel channel featuring tons of in-depth videos about various travel destinations.
- euronews (en français) – Multilingual outlet covering international news, business, technology, sports, and culture.
- Deutsch lernen mit der DW – German language learning videos covering all levels. This is one of the most useful language learning channels we’ve ever found.
- Grenzenlos – Die Welt entdecken – A weekly travel channel that presents the most diverse cities, regions and countries around the world.
- TopWelt – Videos covering mysterious, unusual or otherwise interesting stories from around the world, including legends, natural wonders or extraordinary events.
- RussianWithMax – One of the most useful channels we’ve found for learning Russian. Max covers a wide range of topics, speaking clearly and explaining complicated vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
- Meduza – Independent news website based in Latvia, known for providing accurate and unbiased news to counter disinformation and propaganda.
- Interesting Trips – World travelers from Kaliningrad introduce you to unique destinations around the world.
- Easy Italian – Matteo and Katie introduce you to Italian culture through food, interviews with people on the streets of Milan and discussions on Italian culture.
- euronews (in italiano) – Multilingual outlet covering international news, business, technology, sports, and culture.
- GUFO SAGGIO – An educational channel mostly featuring “top 10” videos.
- 美食中国 Tasty China – Learn how to cook some yummy Chinese dishes with this cooking channel.
- 金魚腦Goldfish Brain – A Chinese-language travel channel by an energetic Taiwanese traveler; great way to practice traditional characters.
- Chinese with Mandarin HQ – Excellent coverage of intermediate-level topics along with explanations of new vocabulary and idiomatic phrases.
- As viagens de Antônio – Get to know the world (in Portuguese!) with this travel channel.
- Euronews em Português – Multilingual outlet covering international news, business, technology, sports, and culture. This channel is a great way to practice European Portuguese.
- INCRÍVEL – An educational channel that focuses on unusual and unique questions, problems and events.
– written by Drew Grubba for Smarter Language. Drew has ACTFL-certified proficiency in Swedish, German, Portuguese, French and Spanish. He’s also studied Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian and Dutch, and is currently learning Russian.