We probably don’t remember how we learned our mother tongue. However, we probably remember or at least know with certainty that we have heard our native language from people who raised us: people we have been around since we started mumbling. As we are learning a foreign language, most of us must have wished, at least once, that we could go back to our baby age and get the knack of how on earth we mastered a language without really studying it. Well, everybody knows that the earlier we start, the fewer barriers we will encounter. So why don’t we use our baby steps to start learning a new language?
Listening, in my opinion, is the very first step in learning a new language, so I want to share my strategy on how to “study” vocabulary, expressions, slang, and pronunciation for a foreign language using Disney songs and vignettes. The reason why I chose Disney animations is because their audience is in most cases children. Therefore, they do not use dense vocabulary or expressions, but rather simple, daily words and terminology such as chocolate, stop, no, slipper, cat, are you serious?, I love you, etc.
There is one rule you need to follow if you want to make sure you grab fresh, new vocabulary words: you must have watched the Disney movie you chose in your native language a couple of times well enough to know the plot, characters’ lines, and lyrics. If you have obeyed this instruction, you can proceed to the next step.
In order to effectively absorb the maximum amount of vocabulary, I suggest you take a notebook and write as many new vocabulary words as you can understand from the movie; for example, if you are watching Cinderella, the narration starts with: “Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there was a tiny kingdom peaceful, prosperous, and rich…” The narration is fairly slow and you would be able to recognize simple words like faraway land or peaceful. I strongly recommend you not to pause the movie to take notes but to simply jot down the words you caught. It is perfectly okay if you don’t get every single word.
Once you finish watching the movie for the first time and writing down the words you don’t know, don’t go straight for the dictionary or translator, because I bet you already know what it means in a broad sense since you have seen that movie in your native language quite a few times.
Instead of flipping through a dictionary, read over the new words and try to recall the scenes in which you heard them. Then, watch the movie a few more times while repeating the vocabulary words each time you hear them. I usually master the new words (about 10-15 words) within two to four sessions, and I’m sure everybody will be able to do so too!
Now, sing-along music is much easier and fun for people who love singing. The hard job is downloading the song, but after that all you do is play it before sleeping, while cleaning your room, while driving, while showering, and any other possible occasions. Make sure you do your best in singing along with the lyrics as much as you can, because the more you sing it the more those words will stick in your brain. However, this doesn’t mean you need to sound perfect like the singer or know every line by heart. Give yourself some time and you will get the hang of it in no time.
Expressions and Slang
Slang is, to me, the hardest part to absorb because I don’t see it in textbooks, grammar books, or vocabulary flashcards. Yet, slang composes a substantial piece when learning a foreign language because in order to truly speak and understand the language fluently, we need to know a few common slang words and expressions to blend in with natives.
Expressions in English such as “it’s up to you” or “how thoughtful” are expressions that cannot be translated word for word in another language because it would sound bizarre and no one would use them. Disney animations have a lot of easy slang and expressions that are commonly used, and whenever Disney productions dub their movies, they appropriately translate the slang from English to whatever foreign language in a way that, for example, Spanish people don’t literally have to deal with Es hasta tí as a translation for “it’s up to you.” Moreover, Disney does a fairly nice job tweaking expressions a little bit for Spanish people to understand the scenes in a Spanish manner and for French people to understand the scenes in a French manner, facilitating our lives since we are looking for pragmatic expressions and slang.
Learning slang and expressions through Disney movies is not different from learning vocabulary through Disney movies. As you did before, just keep writing down expressions or slang you hear. If you want to go a step further and really pin those expressions in your brain, I suggest you find a native speaker and use the slang during your conversation. Again, remember that the majority of the slang used in Disney movies is commonly used, so you should have plenty of opportunities to throw them in your conversations.
Sounding like a native is an awesome ability that anybody learning a language dreams of. Disney sing-alongs are perfect opportunities to practice pronunciation in a fun, exciting way!
I am a very reserved person and have a lot of difficulty opening my mind to people without a purpose, so talking and checking my pronunciation in a foreign language was an extremely difficult process for me until my sister showed me a multilanguage version of “Colors of The Winds.” I merely started out by humming along with the lyrics, then that humming became full words, and then those full words became complete sentences, and finally one day I realized I had memorized the entire song with a decent pronunciation. Sometimes, I didn’t even know the meaning of the words I was singing but I could still pronounce them well enough for the natives to understand.
It doesn’t matter whether you know the meaning of the word when you are working on improving your pronunciation, because knowing the phonics of several words in a language will help you pronounce other words in one way or another. In addition, you don’t have to be embarrassed about anything, since you are only talking or singing alone.
As I mentioned, Disney songs are not fast paced like pop music or rap; therefore, it is much easier to follow along with them. I recommend you choose the same songs you have chosen for learning vocabulary and expressions or songs that are sung in the movie, because it is in fact easier to try and pronounce a word you know than a word you don’t.
Expanding vocabulary, studying expressions, and working on pronunciation are all tough categories in the language learning world, but by going back to our childhood, we may be able to facilitate those processes. Remember, the whole point of these activities is to ameliorate your language skills without “studying” them in a traditional manner. Thus, you have to give yourself enough time and enjoy the learning process. Don’t buy vocabulary flashcards or expression/slang books, but rather, grab a notebook and go to Netflix or Hulu to watch your favorite Disney movie in a foreign language!