Student FAQs Logo for ESL Lessons at Movies Grow English

Student FAQs

Tangled, Rapunzel and Flynn RyderJump to:

What can movies teach us about English?
How can Movies Grow English help students?
Should I use subtitles?
How can I measure my progress?
But I can't understand everything. Is that bad?
Should I watch the whole movie all at once or not?
I am a beginner of English. I do not understand the vocabulary.
I am a university student. How can movies help me grow English?
I saw a new movie, but it was boring.
How should I choose my own movie - to grow English?
OK, but which movies do other students recommend?
What if I already saw the movie my teacher is showing?
My teacher is making us watch an old Movie. Why?
Do you offer private lessons with movies?

Is it really not OK to download movies without paying?
What do other students think of Movies Grow English?
What movies do your students recommend?
Why do whole-movie lessons cost $1 USD?
What is the difference between movie, film, motion picture, cinema, flick, and talkie?

portal to whole-movie ESL lesson for La La Land at Movies Grow EnglishMost students of English like to watch movies.  Movies Grow English is a website that shows how to use movies to improve English.  If you are taking an ESL or EFL class, please suggest this website to your teacher.

In countries where English is not the first language, a movie can be the best and easiest way to hear real English and learn about culture in an English-speaking country.  You hear real grammar, real vocabulary, real slang, and so on.  In countries where English is the first language, a movie can improve your listening skills as well as grammar and vocabulary.  You can then practice in the real world what you learn from the movie, both listening and speaking. 

One important reason why a movie may be popular is because the language is real.  So popular movies are usually good choices for learning real English.

Student pictures

"Friends Forever . . ."

*What can Movies teach us about English?

Actually, a LOT! Movie vocabulary includes slang and idioms, but there are also many formal words, including Academic Words in movies.  Look left at the Movie Vocabulary List to see all 5000 vocabulary words found in the movie lessons here.  Movies also grow grammar because the actors speak real English.  When you hear patterns of English repeated many times, your brain begins to choose "correct" English.  This is how young children acquire natural language.  “Language acquisition” is a powerful tool and easy to use.  It happens whenever you listen to or read English.

Student collage from Spring 2003 at UCLA for Movies Grow English.  ESL lessons using movies.In addition, movies  help us acquire different styles of speaking. In Training Day, Alonzo is a tough cop who talks like he's lived on the streets for a long time. His new partner, Jake, is a college boy. When you watch this movie, you may observe how they each speak English a little differently.  Whose English do you prefer?  Alonzo’s or Jake’s?

Movies also teach the rules of English by example.  By listening carefully, you may recognize the grammar and vocabulary that you learn in the classroom and how it is used in a movie.  There are 63 academic words in A Beautiful Mind.  Most of the dialogue has a rather formal tone to it because most of the story takes place in a university setting.  The spoken grammar is mostly quite proper.

In The Hangover, the rules of grammar and vocabulary have shifted, but the language is every bit as real.  It only has 15 academic words, but do you think it has a ton of real slang that you can learn?  As you would expect, the grammar in The Hangover less formal than in A Beautiful Mind.  On your next visit to Las Vegas, which grammar and vocabulary will you use?

By using subtitles (see below), movies improve reading skills.  When reading along with subtitles, two things happen.  You are forced to read faster than you might otherwise do.  And you are forced to skip past words you might not understand.  This helps you to read faster and focus on overall context rather than the meanings of individual words.  The result is fluency.

So by watching movies, your ability to hear English will improve.  This means your ability to speak English should also improve especially if you discuss a movie with your classmates and friends.  Likewise, as your ability to read English improves, your writing can also get better especially if you write about a movie you saw.  Movies Grow English has lessons which can help with all of this.


*How can Movies Grow English help students?

Many of the activities here, especially Short-Sequence Lessons, are best used in a classroom.  Your English teacher may want to organize and use one of lessons, or they may create their own short-sequence lesson.

Student collage from Fall2004 at UCLA for Movies Grow English.  ESL lessons using movies. Keiji Mitsuda, Burcu Elecarismaz, Takashi Miyaoka, Min Hee LeeYou can also practice these lessons on your own or with your friends. This means you are motivated to study on your own because you really want to grow English.  Try different Short-Sequence activities or lessons and discover what works for you. 

You can also post and publish you favorite movies on the Forum.  You can also post and publish your responses to writing prompts on the whole-movie lessons found here. Remember that the whole world can read what you post, so be sure to edit your writing before posting.

For both classroom and private study, Whole-Movie Lessons are a good choice.  Your teacher may ask you to purchase them for $1 USD to use in class, or you can use them on your own.  There is a  free whole-movie lesson at Featured Lesson on the menu bar.  It can be download and printed for you to use.  These lessons have  lots of vocabulary in context including Academic Words.  They also have questions about the movie, which will help with discussing and writing about the movie.

There may also be background information about the movie.  For example, the movie, Hotel Rwanda tells about Paul Rusesabagina, an African man who saves more than 1000 innocent people from genocide.  The actor is Don Cheadle.  In the movie lesson, there is a photo of the real Paul Rusesabagina with Angelina Jolie.

Even if you just watch movies and enjoy them without studying, you will still get a lot of English up inside your head, the easy way, like a child learns a new language.  Teachers call this "language acquisition" and it works beautifully and easily.  So every time you go to a movie theater to see a new movie in English, your English is growing.

Remember that when you study a movie with a lesson plan, you still acquire English, but you also learn English at the same time.  This is why “Movies Grow English.”Movie posters for Devil Wears Prada, Erin Brockovich, Hotel Rwanda, and Into the Wild at Movies Grow English

*Should I use Subtitles?

Students often ask this question.  When I teach movies to ESL students, I prefer English subtitles because they have advantages.  They improve reading skills because they force your eyes to keep up with the dialogue even if you don’t understand every word.  The more you keep up, the more the subtitles help you to understand dialogue and story. 

But there are advantages to not using subtitles.  They force you to listen and watch for visual cues. Please jump to Captioning for a list of reasons for and against subtitles (Jane King, 2002).

Professor Lin, Li-Yun in Taiwan has a publication entitled Motivational and Effective Film Activities for the Language Lab Class.  For students learning English in a foreign country such as Taiwan, she recommends starting with first-language subtitles, then first and second-language subtitles, then English subtitles, and finally no subtitles.

Since a good movie can be watched more than once, you might try this.  Watch a movie with subtitles.  Replay parts you do not understand.  Read the subtitles carefully.  When you feel ready, watch the movie without subtitles.  How much can you still understand?

*How can I measure my progress?

Maybe in your English classes it feels like there is no improvement. You feel bad, but maybe your English is growing more than you think. Learning a language is a little like watching a tree grow.  You must look away for a while to notice change.

Try this experiment.  Watch a good movie in English (subtitles or not).  Perhaps you don't understand everything.  This is normal. Now go back and study your English for a few days, weeks, months...  Watch the movie again.  Notice any change?  The answer is probably yes.

ESL student photos

"Like Brothers and Sisters"

*But I can't understand Everything. Is that Bad?

There is a fancy expression in psychotherapy called "tolerance for ambiguity."  This means it is OK if you do
not understand everything.  It means to be neutral and open if you do not understand every word or idea. 

There is a whole science built around this concept.  Do a google search of "tolerance for ambiguity" to see what comes Student collage from Fall2005 at UCLA for Movies Grow English.  ESL lessons using movies. Nisa Ratthamarak, Yoo Jang Kim (Amy), J, Hiro. up.  But what does this have to do with movies?

I remember the first time I watched The Matrix and Inception.  As a native speaker of English, I was not sure what I was watching.  There was tons of ambiguity.  The story was not clear.  But both movies sure were fun! I watched each movie several times before I was pretty clear about everything, and yes, I am a native speaker of English!

As a learner of English, your task is to try to understand the movie AND understand the English.  That can be really difficult.  Depending on your level of English, there may be a lot of ambiguity (story not clear). 

How does this make you feel?  For the student who feels a little nervous and uncomfortable, it may be more difficult to learn English.  But if you simply let yourself "enjoy the ride" even if you do not understand everything, you will probably become a better language learner.

In my humble opinion, if you understand the main idea of a movie and at least some of the details, and if you learn at least a few new words, watching the movie was probably a helpful experience.  Remember that when you watch a good movie, you are constantly hearing and probably reading good English grammar.  Your brain has an amazing ability to retain these patterns of English, like how  a child learns language.

So if you want to understand more of the movie, wait three months... and watch it again.  Wow!

*Should I watch the Whole Movie all at once or Not?

When watching a movie on your own, to learn English (great idea!), I suggest stopping when the coconut (head) needs a break, and watching the rest of the movie later. For most English learners it can be tiring to watch a movie all at once. It is perfectly OK to watch 20 minutes.  Then, go shoot some baskets, chat with your friends,  or eat a pizza. Afterwards when the coconut is rested, watch some more of the movie.

Student portrait from Fall 2014 at USC for Movies Grow English.  ESL lessons using movies. Nahyung Ahn,
Musaad Aldawood, Hanadi Alfaisal, Musleh AlGarni, Ahmed Almeshari, Abdullah Alqurashi, Amro Alsanousi, Abdullah Althemali, Mohammed Alyami,Yuzuka Ando, Kaori Cardon, Bokwang (Jason) Eom, ByeongHeon Kim, Ulan Korabay, Fengyu (Lucas) Liu, Jiacheng Lou, Haruka Maekawa, Takumi Miura, Mie Omokawa, Asset Ospanov.

These are reasons I stop the movie often in the ESL classroom. It allows my hard-working students to "catch their breath" before continuing.  It gives us an opportunity to talk about the movie or its vocabulary.  As your English grows, becomes easier to sit through the whole movie all at once.  Anyone for Titanic (four hours)?

"I'll tell you all about it when I see you again."

*I am a Beginner of English. I do not understand the Vocabulary.Limitless

In English school, teachers sometimes say, "Do not translate.  Think in English." But for a low-level student, translation into your language may be necessary.  This includes using a dictionary in your language.  For movie watching, an easier movie is a good idea .  Films here at Movies Grow English are organized by three levels of general difficulty, so it is easy to choose a lower-level movies. 

Before you watch the movie, you or your teacher can select vocabulary from the whole-movie lesson that is useful for your level.  It can help to remember if you choose words with a similar theme, for example: family.  Or you can choose only noun or only verb vocabulary.  Your teacher can help you choose words that are more common and useful.  If you English is a little higher, you or your teacher might want to  look at only the academic words.  They are marked with an asterisk(*).  It is OK to use your dictionary  and translate these words into your language.

As you watch the movie, focus on these words, and focus on the action of the movie. If there are subtitles in your language, use them to help you. Soon, your English will grow like a beautiful lotus flower.

*I am a University Student. How can Movies help me Grow English?

There is a famous English professor in New Zealand. Her name is Averil Coxhead. In 2000, she published the Academic Word List (AWL*). It contains 570 word families (forms) which are most-important for university students to learn. If you are an Academic English (ESL) student, the AWL* is your friend.

With Whole-Movie Lessons on MoviesGrowEnglish, every effort is made to mark, using an asterisk (*), AWL* word entries, and AWL* meanings. As you study a movie, pay careful attention to these words.

BTW - The official Academic Word List is divided into 10 sublists according to frequency. Sublist 1 contains the most-frequent words. When you are not sure if a word is on the AWL*, there is a QUICK-FIND Academic Word List at Movies Grow English where the entire (combined) AWL* is in alphabetical order.

Whole Movie Portal for ESL Lesson of Chef at Movies Grow EnglishMovies also help university students make the "cultural connection" with peers and professors. I have noticed, especially at USC and at Caltech, that many students at the graduate level who are preparing to study, have a difficult time cultivating social bonds within their daily academic life. Doing this is extremely important. In fact, making social connections is one of the best reasons to attend a major university such as USC, Caltech, or UCLA. The connections we make in academia are often carried throughout our professional life.

Can everybody hear me?

Movies can be a gateway to enhancing our understanding of how native speakers of English (in my case, Americans) think, feel, and bond. For example, most people like to talk about food. The film, Chef, is all about the world of "foodies" restaurants, and especially the food-truck revolution. By carefully examining this 2014 movie starring Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, and Robert Downing Jr. ESL students can learn to make a greater cultural connection in their daily academic lives. Sooner or later, your peer or professor will need to take a lunch break. You'll know just how to recommend a great food truck across the street. The bond will be made.

"Peace of Cake"

*I saw a New Movie, but it was Boring.

Maybe your ESL-student friend went to see Cloud Atlas or the new episode of The Hunger Games.  "So how was the movie?" you ask your friend.  

"The movie was boring.  Don't waste your money."

What does this mean?  Maybe the movie really was boring to this ESL student.  Or possibly the movie was just difficult to understand (for your friend's English level).  I suggest this reason because I have had the same conversation with students in my movie classes at USC, UCLA Extension, Caltech, and Santa Monica College when they  would talk about movies.

Student portrait from Spring 2015 at USC for Movies Grow English.  ESL lessons using movies. Omar Alanzi, Abdulaziz Aljameel, Mubarak Almudahkah, Hussain Alnakhli, Abdullah Alshamasi, Thamer Alsubie, Suhaib Bashawry, Rayan Fakhri, Minyoung Hong,
Liangyu Liu, Zhengis Makhambet, Jihye (Rosie) Mun, Afnan Mushait, Hao Pan, Jiadai Sun, Giang-Le Tran, Dias Tulegenov, Yanjie Zeng.Usually when a student says the movie was boring, I ask how much they understood.  And they often say that they couldn't really understand a lot.  Sometimes students report that everyone in the theater was laughing at the jokes.  But the student didn’t think the jokes were funny at all.  (They couldn’t understand them.)

When I lived in Perugia, Italy and studied the beautiful Italian language, I had similar experiences.  I remember watching (with Italian voice-overs) Crimson Tide (Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington) about a submarine battle.  I couldn’t understand much of the movie.  Later, in my embarrassment, I told a little-white-lie.  I said to a fellow classmate, when asked about the movie, that Crimson Tide was “not that good”. 

So I guess "boring" can be ESL code for "difficult to understand."  When your fellow student says this, I suggest asking them how much they understood.  You may prefer to watch this movie after your English improves a little, or perhaps your friend’s English is not as good as yours and you are ready to enjoy this movie.

As for me, I watched Crimson Tide several months later, in Italian, and found it to be a very cool movie.  Later, I also watched it and loved it in English!

*How should I choose my own Movie - to Grow English?

First, choose a movie that you think you will like.  If you like action films, choose an action movie.  Of course, think about your level of English.  There is a famous professor of ESL at University of Southern California (USC) named Dr. Stephen Krashen.  He came up with an idea called i+1 where i means input.  Dr. Krashen says that  when you learn a language, choose a topic that is a little more difficult than what you already know, but not too difficult or too easy.

Students at USC, Spring 2015, Movies Grow English. ESL Lessons for movies.  Watch movies, grow English.I suggest doing this when choosing a movie.  If your English level is low, choose movies with less dialogue and more action like Transformers or Black Swan.  If you are in the middle, choose a light comedy with some action like Blue Crush or an action drama like Hotel Rwanda.  Advanced learners may be ready for a sophisticated drama such as Crash or Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, or Interstellar.

Movies Grow English has ESL lessons for these and many other recommended movies at the Home Page.  But even if you carefully  watch a movie without a lesson, it will still help grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and listening skills just because you are paying attention.



*OK, but which movies do other students recommend?

Over the years, I have been asking my Movie Class students this very question. Then, I ask them to post their reommendations at the FORUM here at Movies Grow English. The direct link is at Movie Recommendations. As of September, 2015, there are close to 100 posts by students from all over the world. Each post shares 5-10 recommendations. Here is an example of a post from Sept. 2015:

"Hi! I'm Cathy from Taiwan.
I'm so excited to have the opportunity of choosing this class as my elective course because I love movies so much. My favorite type of movies is drama since the plot is not only extremely tense and exciting but also deeply moving and touching. Most of all, the ending is usually better than my expectation although it's not always a happy ending.
Followings are some movies on Mike's list that I have seen and loved.
American Beauty
Black Swan
The Dark Knight
I think the most interesting [aspect] of seeing movies is that I have different thoughts when I see the same movie twice. I always get much deeper feelings through the second times. Therefore, I'm looking forward to seeing movies with all guys in this class and then we can discuss each other. Of course, we can learn English from these movies as well as enjoy them!"

Thank you, Cathy from Taiwan. Cathy's post offers specific movie recommendations, and she generously includes some insightful nuggets of advice. I think Cathy's suggestions can help. BTW, you can also share your suggestions at the FORUM. It takes one minute to register. The instructions are at the Forum/WelcomeMessage.

4 movie mosaic

*What if I already saw the Movie my Teacher is Showing?

Sometimes, a student in my movie class is disappointed when I show a movie they already saw (even when only in their first language).  This student was hoping to be entertained with a movie that they had not yet seen.  This student may have forgotten that the purpose of the class is to learn English.  So I have one word for him or her.

Congratulations! You are ahead of the game because you already experienced the movie, and you know the story.  Now Nobu at UCLA, Spring 1998.  Movies Grow English, ESL Lessons using whole movies and will be easier to focus on the vocabulary, listening skills, and pronunciation.  Plus you may hear some cool slang that you’ll want to remember.  In addition, you will probably still enjoy the movie because, if you are like me, you might notice some details that you missed the first time you saw the movie.

In fact, I might watch a good movie many times. The truth is that I have seen all the movies on this site . . . yup, many times.

*My Teacher is making us watch an Old Movie. Why?

The ability to create movies, especially the technical ability, has improved with time. Special effects (CGI), editing, and animation in today's movies can make old movies seem . . . old. Most old movies don't seem as fun to watch, especially if you are a young adult, full of the world, as it is today. And a new movie probably shows the world, as it is today.

But one thing never seems to get better -- the power of a great story. Very few movies, old or new, have the power to tell a great/classic story. Most movies simply entertain, and after watching the movie, it doesn't leave us feeling anything, like a fun carnival ride.

This is why we still remember Shakespeare, the Bible, the Quran, the Torah, the Vedas, the I-Ching, Liang Shanbo (梁山伯) and Zhu Yingtai (祝英台), the Greeks, Kabuki, and all the great story-telling from every corner of the world.  Through the ages, the great stories are the ones we want to remember again and again.

Trip to the Moon, Screenshot

A Trip to the Moon, Georges Méliès (1902)

One of my favorite movies from 2011 is Hugo. It tells the story of the movie and special-effects pioneer, Georges Méliès who directed and produced some 500 movies in the early 20th Century. His influence is still felt today because he was a great story-teller and innovator.

Movies Grow English tries its best to select classic movies from every decade. While new movies have the advantages of new production skills, a great story can come from an old movie too. This is why we call some old movies, classics, and why there are old movies on this web site, and why your teacher may select an old movie to watch in class, and why I hope you will give the classics a chance to reveal their magic.

*Do you offer private lessons with movies?

Yes! I am available through Skype for a limited number of hours. Online English lessons are $50 USD per hour. I can assist you to practice English from a movie lesson (included in the cost). We can work on conversation, grammer, vocabulary, reading, and writing. If you prefer, we can practice from other media or textbooks depending on your goals. If you are in the Los Angeles, CA, USA area, I offer personal lessons for $60 USD. For more details, please reach me at this email.
My email address

ESL student photos

*Is it really NOT OK to download Movies without Paying?

Some students tell me they have downloaded movies without paying and may even brag about it.  It's easy to understand why.  Free downloading is one way to beat the system when the system usually beats us.  And when you're young, maybe there's not a lot of money, especially if you're a student.

But I still feel it is morally wrong and a bad idea to download movies without paying, and especially to buy or sell them on the black market (pirated movies).  Here's why.                                                                                                                                                

USC Film Class, Summer B 2015 (MW) at Movies Grow English, ESL Lessons using movies. Musleh Al-Garni, Zuhui An, Anna Ferreira, Fatma Gorkam, Daeyoung Kim, Lina Li, Siyu(Claire) Li, Qinghong Lin, Xiyang(Cici), Yuning(Renee) Liu, Yuying(Daisy) Sun, Tang(Angra) Tang, Henrique Teixeira, Mehmet Tirampaoglu, Xiaoyu(Sylvie) Weng, Gustavo Willig, Xiaoyu(Iris) Yang, Rundong(Carly) Zhang, Tianqi(Amber) Zhang, Xueting Zhang, Yang Zhang, Sizhuo(Jessica) Zou, Yuhan(Jacqueline) Zou.Pirating and downloading without permission is illegal, and you may get caught for intellectual property theft.  At the same time, movies are cheap to buy or rent legally.  At the Home Page, there are links to where you can buy or rent specific movies at a low price.  Here in the US, you may already know that movies are available to purchase at supermarkets, Target, Costco etc. usually for $10 each or less.  You can rent them for $1-2/day at Amazon or get a low-cost monthly subscription at Netflix. You can even borrow lots of movies at your library for no cost.

It makes no sense to suffer the risk and trouble of downloading or buying a movie that may be bad quality, not have subtitles, and contain viruses.  

For me, the best reason to pay for a movie is that movies are expensive to make, and many people earn their living making them. If they don't get paid, it hurts them and their families, and maybe they will stop making movies.  So if we care about movies, in my opinion, we should support the people who make them.

There's an interesting video, free on the internet, and a good chance to learn some English at The Movie Pirates.  This twelve-minute news segment was made in 2009 for 60 Minutes , a popular American news program.   I recommend watching it to understand how the movie industry works and why it is in our best interest to support the movie industry.

"It's so Easy!"

*What do other Students think of Movies Grow English?

I was hoping someone would ask this question. The ESL movie lessons at this site have been developed and tested in real ESL classrooms at UCLA, USC, California Institute of Technology and other schools. I make a point to ask my students for their opinion. Over the years, I have received many valuable suggestions from students and colleagues (other ESL teachers). If you want to read what some of them say, please jump over to Testimonials here at Movies Grow English.

USC Film Class, Summer B (T, Th) 2015 at Movies Grow English, Watch movies, learn English, the perfect ESL lesson. Younyi Chang, Yuer(Jessica) Chen, Yanchen(Jackie) Du, Yumin Gu, Siying(Iris) Li, Xuanrui(Sherry) Li, Huan Lin, Hauqui(Jessica) Lyu, Junyi(Lyra) Lyu, Yuqing Sun, Siyu(Taro) Wei, Lianghuan(Ray) Xiao, Mengqiao Yu, Yu Zhang, Wenhui Zhu.

What movies do your students recommend?

Actually, I've been polling my students and asking them to post their recommendations at Movies Grow English since 2012. At the FORUM, you can find them here (2015-2016) at There are more here (2014): There are more (2013) here: and here: There are more here (2012):
Also, in 2016, I began putting up original movie posters created by my students. You can find them here:

*Why do Whole-Movie Lessons cost $1 USD?

These lessons and this website are how I share my passion for using movies to teach and learn English for language learners across the world wide web. Whole-Movie and Short-Sequence Lessons are like most other school material. They require a lot of time and work to make, and I ask only $1 USD for each 4-8 page lesson. Everything else at Movies Grow English is free. Please jump to Short Sequence for more ideas you can use or suggest to your teacher. At Featured Whole-Movie Lesson, there is a complete whole-movie lesson which can be copied or downloaded. Also, please look at Featured Short-Sequence Lesson. For those young scholars who plan to attend an English-speaking university, the Academic Word List is a powerful tool. And please don't forget to visit the Forum and Blog, where you can read what other students say about a movie of interest. You can also join the discussionn by posting and publishing your own ideas about movies. All of this is free. If you need help getting started, e-mail me at the address below.

*What is the difference between movie, film, motion picture, cinema, flick, and talkie?

This a trick question, isn't it? I may be full of sprinkle dust, but IMHO, although the preferred term at MGE is "movie," for students of English it all adds up to the same thing. Movies are a great and easy way to learn English for so many reasons. I hope you'll have much success with using movies to learn English!

Friends Forever at Movies Grow English, ESL lessons using whole movies and short sequencesPlease note:
Your support of Movies Grow English is most appreciated because it allows more freedom to make more lessons and keep Movies Grow English on the internet. My desire is to make English lessons for hundreds of great movies because there are so many great movies that grow English.  Webmasters, please consider iPage for your web host (See below.). I have been using iPage since 2010, and it has served me well.

Please send your thoughts and suggestions to:
my e-mail address

Thanks for visiting Movies Grow English.

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